I read about an interesting finding this week: Teens with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often look at a sad or angry face and see fear.
This sheds new light on a disorder tied to heightened threat perception, which can trigger fight-or-flight responses. Misreading social cues could contribute to the stress PTSD sufferers feel in what others perceive as non-stressful situations.
There was another group of teens who misidentified facial expressions in the study. Teens diagnosed with conduct disorder often saw anger in faces that were actually sad. It makes sense–people with conduct disorder tend to show callousness or aggressiveness where others might show empathy. Seeing the wrong emotion in a face would influence behavior in that way.
So what do we do with this information? We incorporate it into treatment. Helping people with PTSD or conduct disorder recognize what emotions their peers are feeling could change the way they respond to their environment.