Basic Emotion Recognition According to Clinical Personality Traits

  • Ana Teresa Martins
  • Antónia Ros
  • Letícia Valério
  • Luís Faísca


Disturbances in the ability to recognize emotional faces have been attributed to individuals with specific personality disorders. Considering the importance of the dimensional models of psychopathology, studies involving healthy participants are becoming increasingly relevant in the domain of personality disorders. In this context, our main goal was to assess how clinical personality traits affect the ability to recognize basic emotions in a sample of subclinical participants. Photographs of faces expressing six basic emotions (happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust and surprise) were presented to 72 undergraduate students (42 women; M age = 23.3 yr., SD = 3.4), whose dominant personality traits (narcissistic, histrionic and compulsive) were assessed using the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-III. Data were analyzed using both a whole sample regression approach (relating personality traits with emotion recognition performance) and a group comparison approach (comparing groups of participants with dominant personality - narcissistic, histrionic and compulsive - as well as comparing groups with subclinical symptomatology for anxiety and hypomania). The main results suggested a poor recognition of sadness in narcissistic participants and a higher difficulty for anger recognition in participants with anxiety symptoms. These results are discussed within the theoretical framework suggesting that the difficulties in basic and social emotions recognition have implications in interpersonal interactions experienced in different social contexts.


Basic emotion recognition Clinical personality traits Symptomatology 



This work was partially supported by the Fundação para a Ciência e para a Tecnologia (CBMR project: UID/BIM/04773/2013).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

All the authors declare no conflict of interest

Ethical Approval

All the procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. Abramowitz, J. S., Fabricant, L. E., Taylor, S., Deacon, B. J., McKay, D., & Storch, E. A. (2014). The relevance of analogue studies for understanding obsessions and compulsions. Clinical Psychology Review, 34(3), 206–217. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2014.01.004.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Ali, F., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2010). Investigating theory of mind deficits in nonclinical psychopathy and Machiavellianism. Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 169–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Manual de Diagnóstico e Estatística das Perturbações Mentais, 4ª Edição, Revisão de Texto. Lisboa: Climepsi Editores.Google Scholar
  4. Ames, D., & Kammrath, L. (2004). Mind-reading and metacognition: Narcissism not actual competence, predicts self-estimated ability. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 28(3), 187–209. doi: 10.1023/B:JONB.0000039649.20015.0e.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baron-Cohen, S. (2001). Theory of mind and autism: A review. International Review of Research in Mental Retardation, 23, 169–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, M., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind”? Cognition, 21(1), 37–46. doi: 10.1016/0010-0277(85)90022-8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Baskin-Sommers, A., Krusemark, E., & Ronningstam, E. (2014). Empathy in narcissistic personality disorder: From clinical and empirical perspectives. Personality Disorders, 5(3), 323–333 Scholar
  8. Baughman, H. M., Dearing, S., Giammarco, E., & Vernon, P. A. (2012). Relationships between bullying behaviours and the dark triad: A study with adults. Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 571–575. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2011.11.020.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Beck, A. T., Freeman, A., & Davis, D. D. (2005). Terapia Cognitiva dos Transtornos de Personalidade. Porto Alegre: Artmed.Google Scholar
  10. Bird, C. M., Castelli, F., Malik, O., Frith, U., & Husain, M. (2004). The impact of extensive medial frontal lobe damage on `Theory of Mind' and cognition. Brain, 127, 914–928. doi: 10.1093/brain/awh108.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Bishop, S. J. (2007). Neurocognitive mechanisms of anxiety: An integrative account. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11(7), 307–316. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2007.05.008.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Blair, R. J., Mitchell, D. G., Peschardt, K. S., Colledge, E., Leonard, R. A., Shine, J. H., Murray, L. K., & Perrett, D. I. (2004). Reduced sensitivity to others’ fearful expressions in psychopathic individuals. Personality and Individual Differences, 37, 1111–1122. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2003.10.008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bocharov, A. V., & Knyazev, G. G. (2011). Interaction of anger with anxiety and responses to emotional facial expressions. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(3), 398–403. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.11.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bora, E., & Berk, M. (2016). Theory of mind in major depressive disorder: A meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 191, 49–55. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2015.11.023.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Bora, E., Walterfang, W., & Velakoulis, D. (2015). Theory of mind in Parkinson's disease: A meta-analysis. Behavioural Brain Research, 292(1), 515–520. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2015.07.012.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Brook, M., & Kosson, D. (2013). Impaired cognitive empathy in criminal psychopathy: Evidence from a laboratory measure of empathic accuracy. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 122(1), 156–166. doi: 10.1037/a0030261.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Brüne, M. (2005). ‘Theory of Mind’’ in schizophrenia: A review of the literature. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 31(1), 21–42.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Calder, A. J., Ewbank, M., & Passamonti, L. (2011). Personality influences the neuronal responses to viewing facial expressions of emotion. Philophical Transactions of The Royal Society B, 366(1571), 1684–1701. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Campanella, S., Vanhoolandt, M. E., & Philippot, P. (2005). Emotional deficit in subjects with psychopathic tendencies as assessed by the MMPI-2: An event-related potentials study. Neuroscience Letters, 373, 26–31.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Carter, G. L., Campbell, A. C., & Muncer, S. (2014). The dark triad: Beyond a ‘male’ mating strategy. Personality and Individual Differences, 56, 159–164. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2013.09.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Cavaco, S. (2008). Trail making test: dados normativos dos 21 aos 65 anos. Psychologica, 49, 222–238.Google Scholar
  22. Corcoran, R. (2000). Theory of mind in other clinical conditions: Is selective ‘theory of mind’ deficit exclusive to autism? In S. Baron-Cohen, H. Tager-Flusberg, & D. J. Cohen (Eds.), Understanding other minds (2nd ed., pp. 391–421). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Couture, S. S., Penn, D. L., & Roberts, D. L. (2006). The functional significance of social cognition in schizophrenia: A review. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 32, 44–63. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbl029.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Dawel, A., O’Kearney, R., McKone, E., & Palermo, R. (2012). Not just fear and sadness: Meta-analytic evidence of pervasive emotion recognition deficits for facial and vocal expressions in psychopathy. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 36(10), 2288–22304. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2012.08.006.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Dolan, M., & Fullam, R. (2004). Theory of mind and mentalizing ability in antisocial personality disorders with and without psychopathy. Psychological Medicine, 34(6), 1093–1102. doi: 10.1017/S0033291704002028.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Dolan, M., & Fullam, R. (2006). Face affect recognition deficits in personality disordered offenders: Association with psychopathy. Psychological Medicine, 36, 1563–1569.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Domes, G., Czieschnek, D., Weidler, F., Berger, C., Fast, K., & Herpertz, S. C. (2008). Recognition of facial affect in borderline personality disorder. Journal of Personality Disorders, 22(2), 135–147.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Edgar, C., McRorie, M., & Sneddon, I. (2012). Emotional intelligence, personality and the decoding of non-verbal expressions of emotion. Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 295–300. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2011.10.024.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ekman, P. (1992). An argument for basic emotions. Cognition and Emotion, 6, 169–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Eysenck, M. W., & Keane, M. T. (2010). Cognitive psychology: A Student’s handbook (6nd ed.). New York: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  31. Feist, J., Feist, G., & Robert, T. (2012). Theory of personality. New York: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar
  32. Hamann, S., & Canli, T. (2004). Individual differences in emotion processing. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 14(2), 233–238. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2004.03.010.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Haxby, J. V., Hoffman, E. A., & Gobbini, M. I. (2002). The distributed human neural system for face perception. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 4, 223–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Herpertz, S. C., & Bertsch, K. (2014). The social-cognitive basis of personality disorders. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 27(1), 73–77. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0000000000000026.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Jakobwitz, S., & Egan, V. (2006). The dark triad and normal personality traits. Personality and Individual Differences, 40, 331–339. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2005.07.006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kessler, H., Bayerl, P., Deighton, R. M., & Traue, H. C. (2002). Facially expressed emotion labelling (feel): Pc-gestutzter test zur emotions erkennung. Verhaltenstherapie und Verhaltensmedizin, 23, 297–306.Google Scholar
  37. Knyazev, G. G., Bocharov, A. V., Slobodskaya, H. R., & Ryabichek, T. I. (2008). Personality-linked biases in perception of emotional facial expressions. Personality and Individual Differences, 44, 1093–1104. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2007.11.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kosson, D. S., Suchy, Y., Mayer, A. R., & Libby, J. (2002). Facial affect recognition in criminal psychopaths. Emotion, 2(4), 398–411. doi: 10.1037//1528-3542.2.4.398.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Krippendorff, K. (2004). Content analysis. An introduction to its methodology. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  40. Lezak, M. D., Howieson, D. B., & Loring, D. W. (2004). Neuropsychological assessment (4th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Marissen, M. A., Deen, M. L., & Franken, I. H. (2012). Disturbed emotion recognition in patients with narcissistic personality disorder. Psychiatry Research, 198(2), 269–273. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2011.12.042.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Marsh, A. A., & Blair, R. J. (2008). Deficits in facial affect recognition among antisocial populations: A meta-analysis. Neuroscience Biobehavioural Review, 32(3), 454–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Martins, A., & Reis, A. (2007). Validação de estímulos para construção de paradigmas para o estudo do reconhecimento de emoções. Provas de Aptidão e Capacidade Científica pela Universidade do Algarve.Google Scholar
  44. Martins, A., Muresan, M., Justo, M., & Simão, C. (2008). Basic and social emotion recognition in patients with Parkinson disease. Journal of Neurological Sciences, 25, 247–257.Google Scholar
  45. Martins, A., Faísca, L., Esteves, F., Muresan, A., Justo, M., Simão, C., & Reis, A. (2011). Traumatic brain injury patients: Does frontal brain lesion influence basic emotion recognition? Psychology & Neuroscience, 4(3), 377–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Mennin, D. S., Heimberg, R. G., Turk, C. L., & Fresco, D. M. (2005). Preliminary evidence for an emotion dysregulation model of generalized anxiety disorder. Research Therapy, 43, 1281–1310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Millon, T., Millon, C., Davis, R., & Grossman, S. (2009). MCMI-III: Millon clinical multiaxial inventory manual (4th ed.). Minneapolis: Pearson Education.Google Scholar
  48. Millon, T., Grossman, S., & Millon, C. (2015). MCMI-IV: Millon clinical multiaxial inventory manual (1st ed.). Bloomington: NCS Pearson, Inc..Google Scholar
  49. Mitchell, R. L. C., & Young, A. H. (2016). Theory of mind in bipolar disorder, with comparison to the impairments observed in schizophrenia. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 6, 188. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2015.00188.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  50. O’Boyle, E. H., Forsyth, D. R., Banks, G. C., & McDaniel, M. A. (2012). A meta-analysis of the dark triad and work behaviour: A social exchange perspective. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97, 557–579. doi: 10.1037/a0025679.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Orgeta, V. (2011). Emotion dysregulation and anxiety in late adulthood. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 25, 1019–1023.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Paulhus, D., & Williams, K. (2002). The dark triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Journal of Research in Personality, 36, 556–563. doi: 10.1016/S0092-6566(02)00505-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Pawluk, E. J., & Koerner, N. (2013). A preliminary investigation of impulsivity in generalized anxiety disorder. Personality and Individual Differences, 54, 732–737.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Penney, L. M., & Spector, P. E. (2002). Narcissism and counterproductive work behavior: Do bigger egos mean bigger problems? International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 10, 126–134. doi: 10.1111/1468- 2389.00199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Raven, J., Raven, J. C., & Court, J. H. (2000). Raven manual: Section 3, standard progressive matrices, including the parallel and plus versions, 2000 edition. Oxford: Oxford Psychologists Press Ltd.Google Scholar
  56. Reitan, R. M. (1958). Validity of the trail making test as an indicator of organic brain damage. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 8, 271–276. doi: 10.2466/pms.1958.8.3.271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Richell, R. A., Mitchell, D. G., Newman, C., Leonard, A., Baron-Cohen, S., & Blair, R. J. (2003). Theory of mind and psychopathy: Can psychopathic individuals read the ‘language of the eyes’? Neuropsychologia, 41, 523–526.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. Ritter, K., Dziobek, I., Preißler, S., Rüter, A., Vater, A., Fydrich, T., Lammers, C., Heekeren, H., & Roepke, S. (2011). Lack of empathy in patients with narcissistic personality disorder. Psychiatry Research, 187, 241–247. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2010.09.013.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Rocha, H. P., Sousa, H. C., Alchieri, J. C., Sales, E., & Alencar, J. N. (2011). Estudos de adaptação do Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-III para avaliação de aspetos psicopatológicos da personalidade no Brasil. Jornal Brasileiro de Psiquiatria, 60(1), 34–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Roczniewska, M., & Bakker, A. B. (2016). Who seeks job resources, and who avoids job demands? The link between dark personality traits and job crafting. The Journal of Psychology, 150, 1026–1045. doi: 10.1080/00223980.2016.1235537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sabbagh, M. A., Moulson, M. C., & Harkness, K. L. (2004). Neural correlates of mental state decoding in human adults: An event-related potential study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 16(3), 415–426. doi: 10.1162/089892904322926755.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Simão, C., Mariline, J., & Martins, A. T. (2009). Recognizing facial expressions of social emotions: Do males and females differ? Psicologia, 22(2), 71–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Spain, S. M., Harms, P. D., & LeBreton, J. (2014). The dark side of personality at work. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 35, S41–S60. doi: 10.1002/job.1894.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Steenkamp, M. M., Suvak, M. K., Dickstein, B. D., Shea, M. T., & Litz, B. T. (2014). Emotional functioning in obsessive-compulsive personality disorder: Comparison to borderline personality disorder and healthy controls. Journal of Personality Disorders, 29(6), 794–808. doi: 10.1521/pedi_2014_28_174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Surcinelli, P., Codispoti, M., Montebarocci, O., Rossi, N., & Baldaro, B. (2006). Facial emotion recognition in trait anxiety. Anxiety Disorders, 20, 110–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Tager-Flusberg, H., & Sullivan, K. (2000). A componential view of theory of mind: Evidence from Williams’s syndrome. Cognition, 76(1), 59–90. doi: 10.1016/S0010-0277(00)00069-X.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  67. Tracy, J. L., & Randles, D. (2013). Four models of basic emotions: A review of Ekman and Cordaro, izard, Levenson, and Panksepp and watt. Emotion Review, 3(4), 397–4405. doi: 10.1177/1754073911410747.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wai, M., & Tiliopoulos, N. (2012). The affective and cognitive empathic nature of the dark triad of personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 794–799. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2012.01.008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Wechsler, D. (1997). WAIS-III administration and scoring manual. San Antonio, Texas: The Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  70. Widiger, T. A., & Trull, T. J. (2007). Plate tectonics in the classification of personality disorder: Shifting to a dimensional model. American Psychologist, 62(2), 71–83. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.62.2.71.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  71. Zhao, H., Zhang, H., & Xu, Y. (2016). Does the dark triad of personality predict corrupt intention? The mediating role of belief in good luck. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 608. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00608.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ana Teresa Martins
    • 1
  • Antónia Ros
    • 1
  • Letícia Valério
    • 1
  • Luís Faísca
    • 1
  1. 1.Center of Biomedical Research and Department of Psychology and Educational SciencesUniversity of AlgarveFaroPortugal

Personalised recommendations