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Department of Cognitive Science

Cogntive Science Alumni

Catherine Hayes

Catherine Hayes

Thesis Details

Disgust processing in Huntington's Disease

Several studies have reported that people with Huntington's Disease have a selective inability to recognise facial expressions of disgust. In these studies recognition of other expressions were poor, but problems with disgust were disproportionately severe. Further investigations have examined facial expression recognition in pre-clinical HD gene carriers, and report a highly selective deficit in the recognition of disgust, even in those individuals who were free from clinical symptoms. These findings are most intriguing when viewed in parallel with evidence from patients with bilateral amygdala damage, who demonstrate a selective inability to recognise fear. The evidence forms a striking double dissociation between recognition of disgust (which is extremely poor in patients with HD and intact in patients with amygdala lesions), and the recognition of fear (which is impaired in patients with amygdala lesions, but preserved in HD). This pattern suggests that the process of judging that a facial expression is disgust is separable from the process for judging that a facial expression is fear. Apparently the H.D. gene lesions those structures in the brain which mediate recognition of facial expressions of disgust, while largely sparing those structures that enable recognition of facial expressions of fear. How such a seemingly specific deficit for recognition of facial expressions of disgust in HD should be interpreted is still unclear. One possibility is that poor recognition of disgust reflects a central problem in processing and experiencing this emotion. My research explores this hypothesis by investigating whether other aspects of disgust are also selectively affected in this disorder. There are three major aims: 1) To examine whether this impairment in recognition of facial expressions of emotion is accompanied by poor processing of emotion in other sensory modalities such as vocal disgust, taste and smell; and (2) To examine if poor recognition is associated with aberrant experiences of the felt component, or qualia of disgust, thereby elucidating the link between feeling disgust and the ability to recognise it; and (3) to establish whether alterations in emotion processing are associated with particular clinical characteristics of the disease.

  • Type:
  • Scholarship : APA
  • Supervisors : Professor Max Coltheart (Internal), Associate Supervisor Dr Richard Stevenson (Internal).