Abnormal visual scanning of emotionally evocative natural scenes in Huntington's disease

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© 2017 Kordsachia, Labuschagne and Stout. Huntington's disease (HD) is a neurodegenerative movement disorder associated with deficits in the processing of emotional stimuli, including alterations in the self-reported subjective experience of emotion when presented with pictures of emotional scenes. The aim of this study was to determine whether individuals with HD, compared to unaffected controls, display abnormal visual scanning of emotionally evocative natural scenes. Using eye-tracking, we recorded eye-movements of 25 HD participants (advanced pre-symptomatic and early symptomatic) and 25 age-matched unaffected control participants during a picture viewing task. Participants viewed pictures of natural scenes associated with different emotions: anger, fear, disgust, happiness, or neutral, and evaluated those pictures on a valence rating scale. Individuals with HD displayed abnormal visual scanning patterns, but did not differ from controls with respect to their valence ratings. Specifically, compared to controls, HD participants spent less time fixating on the pictures and made longer scan paths. This finding highlights the importance of taking visual scanning behavior into account when investigating emotion processing in HD. The visual scanning patterns displayed by HD participants could reflect a heightened, but possibly unfocussed, search for information, and might be linked to attentional deficits or to altered subjective emotional experiences in HD. Another possibility is that HD participants may have found it more difficult than controls to evaluate the emotional valence of the scenes, and the heightened search for information was employed as a compensatory strategy.




Kordsachia, C. C., Labuschagne, I., & Stout, J. C. (2017). Abnormal visual scanning of emotionally evocative natural scenes in Huntington’s disease. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(MAR). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00405

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