Sleep’s Impact on Facial Recognition

In the US, people average 6.8 hours of sleep a night. Medical studies have shown a link between individuals deprived of sleep and an increase in health problems. A new paper out of the University of Arizona finds people have difficulty in reading a person’s emotional state from their facial expressions when they’re tired.

The study, published in the journal, Neurobiology of Sleep and Circadian Rhythm, had 54 participants examine photographs of a male face expressing varying degrees of fear, happiness, sadness, anger, surprise and disgust. Participants were asked to indicate which of those six emotions they thought was being expressed the most by each face. In some situations, the participants viewed a composite that morphed two images together (70% sadness and 30% anger, for example). In all, participants were exposed to 180 faces.

The baseline responses were then compared to responses after a night of sleep deprivation. The results indicated that participants struggled to identify social emotions like happiness or sadness when deprived of sleep. More primitive emotions such as anger, fear, surprise, and disgust were not affected by lack of sleep. The participants were tested again after one night of recovery sleep and their responses returned to baseline levels.

Where the performance differences were not overwhelming, the paper suggests it was enough where lack of sleep could significantly influence critical social interactions. The areas of the brain that controls emotions, that sees faces, and that responds to the emotional content lose their communicative ability while sleep deprived. Something to keep in mind for those night owls, binge watchers, and new parents.

This was Article 63 from the Studio Quick Facts Series.

Works cited

Killgore, W. D., Balkin, T. J., Yarnell, A. M., & Capaldi, V. F. (2017). Sleep deprivation impairs recognition of specific emotions. Neurobi- ology of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms, 3, 10-16.

Killgore, W. D., Killgore, D. B., Kamimori, G. H., & Balkin, T. J. (2010, May). Caffeine Reduces Behavioral Risk-Taking During Sleep Deprivation. In BIOLOGICAL PSYCHIATRY (Vol. 67, No. 9, pp. 168S-169S). 360 PARK AVE SOUTH, NEW YORK, NY 10010-1710 USA: ELSEVIER SCIENCE INC.

Killgore, W. D., Lipizzi, E. L., Smith, K. L., Killgore, D. B., Rupp, T. L., Kamimori, G. H., & Balkin, T. J. (2008, January). Nonverbal intelli- gence is inversely related to the ability to resist sleep loss. In SLEEP (Vol. 31, pp. A134-A135). ONE WESTBROOK CORPORATE CTR, STE 920, WESTCHESTER, IL 60154 USA: AMER ACAD SLEEP MEDICINE.

University of Arizona. (2017, March 23). Sleep Deprivation Impairs Ability to Interpret Facial Expressions. NeuroscienceNew. Re- trieved March 23, 2017 from

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