, Volume 185, Issue 4, pp 529–535 | Cite as

Scopolamine induces impairments in the recognition of human facial expressions of anger and disgust

  • S. K. Kamboj
  • H. V. Curran
Original Investigation



Recent psychopharmacological studies lend support to the notion of partially dissociable neuronal systems dedicated to processing specific emotions. For example, GABA-ergic enhancement after an acute dose of the benzodiazepine, diazepam, produces specific impairments in anger and fear recognition. However, it is unclear if these impairments are a general property of benzodiazepines and other drugs that produce a similar profile of neurocognitive impairment to benzodiazepines, such as the anticholinergic, scopolamine.


We investigated the effects of scopolamine and the benzodiazepine, lorazepam, on emotion-recognition accuracy.


A double-blind independent group design was used with 48 healthy volunteers to compare the effects of scopolamine and lorazepam with an inactive placebo on a commonly used emotion-recognition task. Control measures included an episodic memory task and subjective mood ratings.


Anger and disgust recognition accuracy was impaired after scopolamine. In contrast, lorazepam produced no impairment in emotion-recognition despite producing similar levels of sedation and anterograde amnesia to scopolamine.


Scopolamine-induced cholinergic hypofunction selectively impaired the recognition accuracy of disgust and anger facial expressions. The effects of scopolamine on emotion-recognition are similar to those found in Huntington’s disease patients. Furthermore, the impairments in anger and fear recognition previously observed with diazepam do not appear to be a general property of benzodiazepines. This suggests that alterations in emotional processing involving changes in the ability to recognize threat-related emotions (particularly, fear and anger) may not be a principal mechanism underlying anxiolysis or paradoxical aggression seen with benzodiazepines.


Emotion-recognition Disgust Anger Scopolamine Anticholinergic Lorazepam Benzodiazepine 



SK was in receipt of a Wellcome Trust International Travelling Research Fellowship. We would like to thank Rosa Hoshi and Celia Morgan for comments and helpful discussion about this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit, Sub-Department of Clinical Health PsychologyUniversity College LondonLondonUK

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