Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development

pp 576-576

Emotional Lability

  • Nicholas BoltAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Fordham University


Affect lability; Emotional incontinence; Pathologic emotionality; Pseudobulbar affect (PBA)


Emotional lability is a disorder characterized by involuntary emotional displays of mood that are overly frequent and excessive, often the result of various neuropathologies.


Historically, emotional lability has been difficult to categorize as a distinct psychological disorder. The term is often used interchangeably with pseudobulbar affect (PBA), although PBA more generally refers to excessive emotions that may or may not correspond with the underlying mood. PBA also encompasses a broader range of emotions including anger and irritability, while emotional lability generally refers only to emotions characterized by laughing and crying.

Although the definitive cause is still unknown, most hypotheses point to the loss of voluntary, cortical inhibition over brainstem centers that produce the facio-respiratory functions associated with laughing ...

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