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Wrong Impression: Bipolar kids misinterpret facial cues as hostile

Children with bipolar disorder are more likely than other kids to read hostility in bland facial expressions, a new study shows. Misinterpreting social cues might contribute to irritability and the unprovoked aggression that bipolar children sometimes direct toward others, the researchers say.

While the children were misconstruing facial cues, excessive activity arose in brain areas that are associated with emotion processing, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed. The study is the first to combine tests of facial interpretation and simultaneous MRI measurements in brain regions pivotal to bipolar disorder in children, says study coauthor Ellen Leibenluft, a psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Md.

The researchers compared 22 bipolar children with 21 mentally healthy children. Both groups averaged 14 years of age. Eighteen of the bipolar children were taking some form of psychiatric medication.

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