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What is Affective Flattening?

Affective flattening is a reduction in emotional expressiveness, where someone shows minimal emotional reactions and facial expressions. It's often associated with schizophrenia and other psychiatric conditions. Imagine a face that rarely smiles, frowns, or shows anger—this is the stark reality for those experiencing it. How does this condition impact daily life and relationships? Explore the profound effects with us.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Affective flattening, sometimes called blunted or flat affect, is a psychological symptom characterized by diminished or absent emotional reactions. It is associated with a number of psychiatric conditions, such as schizophrenia. Affect is the psychological term for the outward display of emotion, such as through gestures, tone of voice, facial expressions, laughter, and tears. Some affective flattening is normal, such as that which occurs as part of the maturation from childhood to adulthood. Different cultures have different standards of the appropriate intensity and manner of emotional display, so it is important to remain culturally sensitive when evaluating affective flattening.

While flat affect is often used to describe a more severely diminished emotional display than blunted affect, both symptoms are a type of affective flattening. Emotional displays and affective flattening can be conceived of as a continuum rather than a set of discrete symptoms, as the appropriate emotional displays vary among cultures, subcultures, and individuals. Evaluating the intensity of a display of emotion is also a subjective experience.

Affective flattening describes a lack of emotional reactions.
Affective flattening describes a lack of emotional reactions.

A less extreme version, in which the range of emotional display is mildly limited when compared to the social norm, is known as constricted or restricted affect. Also called alexythymia, constricted affect is considered a personality trait rather than a psychological disorder, though it is associated with psychiatric conditions including autism, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder (MDD), anorexia, and bulimia. Alexythymia is also a risk factor for a variety of psychiatric disorders.

Labile affect is characterized by uncontrollable or socially unacceptable laughter.
Labile affect is characterized by uncontrollable or socially unacceptable laughter.

In addition to affective flattening, abnormal affect may also manifest as incongruous or inappropriately exaggerated displays of emotion. Affect may be appropriately positive or negative, but inappropriate in intensity, such as breaking into tears because of a minor disappointment. Labile affect is characterized by uncontrollable and socially inappropriate laughter, smiling, or tears. It is common in sufferers of brain injury, dementia, and Lou Gehrig disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Labile affect may also be indicative of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a TheHealthBoard editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a TheHealthBoard editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

Learn more...

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    • Affective flattening describes a lack of emotional reactions.
      By: Forgiss
      Affective flattening describes a lack of emotional reactions.
    • Labile affect is characterized by uncontrollable or socially unacceptable laughter.
      By: icsnaps
      Labile affect is characterized by uncontrollable or socially unacceptable laughter.
    • Constricted affect is commonly associated with anorexia and bulimia.
      By: Sylvie Bouchard
      Constricted affect is commonly associated with anorexia and bulimia.
    • Affective flattening might be caused by PTSD.
      By: John Gomez
      Affective flattening might be caused by PTSD.
    • Childhood trauma may produce affective flattening in some individuals.
      By: Rafael Ben-Ari
      Childhood trauma may produce affective flattening in some individuals.
    • People who are suffering from dementia often have affective flattening.
      By: Smailhodzic
      People who are suffering from dementia often have affective flattening.