Eye Contact Avoided by Bipolar Children

eye contactA recent study showed that bipolar children spend less time making eye contact with people – looking at their eyes – versus typical children. Instead of looking at the eyes, bipolar children and children with severe mood dysregulation in the study spent less time looking at the eyes when observing faces. Instead, they spent more time with their eyes on the mouth and nose.

U.S. National Institute of Mental Health investigators suggested the eye contact habits of bipolar children as a possible explanation why these children have trouble determining  how other people feel.

This study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, so it should be considered preliminary. If accepted by the psychiatric community, this eye contact research may help develop treatment plans that education bipolar children guess the emotional state of people by looking more often at the eyes. In turn, they may process emotional information more accurately, which could help them regulate their feelings when interacting with others.

The eyes are controlled by muscles. The skin around the eyes, and the entire face, are regulated by muscular activity. Neurologically normal humans are capable, most of the time, of accurately reading the facial expressions that result from this muscular activity. It helps them detect very subtle details of facial expressions to determine many shades of emotions in others.

The eyes, in particular, send significant messages about an individual’s health and emotional state. For example, bloodshot eyes usually indicate fatigue; wide eyes sometimes indicate surprise or arousal; tight muscles around the eyes may show tension or stress; narrowing of the eyes might mean anger.

When bipolar children or children with don’t spend enough time in eye contact, they may miss important social clues. Bipolar disorder is marked by serious and sometimes sudden mood swings. Mania can give way to dark depression quickly. Socializing with others can be difficult for both bipolar adults and bipolar children.

Source: Society for Neuroscience press release, 14 November, 2011