THURSDAY, Nov. 17, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Children with bipolar disorder and a similar condition called severe mood dysregulation spend less time looking at the eyes when trying to identify facial features, compared to children without the psychiatric disorders, researchers say.
This new study finding may help explain why children with bipolar disorder and severe mood dysregulation have difficulty determining other people's emotional expressions, said the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health investigators.
The researchers tracked the eye movements of children with and without psychiatric disorders as they viewed faces with different emotional expressions, such as happy, sad, fearful and angry. In general, the children spent more time looking at the eyes, the facial feature that conveys the most information about emotion.
However, children with bipolar disorder and severe mood dysregulation paid less attention to the eyes and more attention to the noses and mouths of the faces.
The study was presented this week at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego.
"In combination with other studies, our findings indicate the potential value of treatment programs that teach children how to identify emotions by looking at others' eyes," study author Pilyoung Kim said in a society news release.
"If such training helps children to process the emotional information in their world more accurately, that may in turn increase their ability to regulate their emotional reactions to social situations," Kim added.
Research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about bipolar disorder in children and teens.