Associations between mood instability and emotional processing in a large cohort of bipolar patients

A. C. Bilderbeck*, Z. E. Reed, H. C. McMahon, L. Z. Atkinson, J. Price, J. R. Geddes, G. M. Goodwin, C. J. Harmer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
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BACKGROUND: Aberrant emotional biases have been reported in bipolar disorder (BD), but results are inconsistent. Despite the clinical relevance of chronic mood variability in BD, there is no previous research investigating how the extent of symptom fluctuations in bipolar disorder might relate to emotional biases. This exploratory study investigated, in a large cohort of bipolar patients, whether instability in weekly mood episode symptoms and other clinical and demographic factors were related to emotional bias as measured in a simple laboratory task.

METHOD: Participants (N = 271, BDI = 206, BDII = 121) completed an 'emotional categorization and memory' task. Weekly self-reported symptoms of depression and mania were collected prospectively. In linear regression analyses, associations between cognitive bias and mood variability were explored together with the influence of demographic and clinical factors, including current medication.

RESULTS: Greater accuracy in the classification of negative words relative to positive words was associated with greater instability in depressive symptoms. Furthermore, greater negative bias in free recall was associated with higher instability in manic symptoms. Participants diagnosed with BDII, compared with BDI, showed overall better word recognition and recall. Current antipsychotic use was associated with reduced instability in manic symptoms but this did not impact on emotional processing performance.

CONCLUSIONS: Emotional processing biases in bipolar disorder are related to instability in mood. These findings prompt further investigation into the underpinnings as well as clinical significance of mood instability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3151-3160
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number15
Early online date30 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2016


  • Bipolar disorder
  • emotional bias
  • emotional processing
  • mood instability
  • mood symptoms


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