What Is a Blunted Affect?

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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 13 July 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Blunted affect is the failure of a person to display emotion in a culturally-appropriate way. While it is not considered to be a psychiatric disorder in and of itself, it can be a symptom of several known disorders, including post-traumatic stress syndrome, schizophrenia, depression, and various autistic spectrum disorders. During a psychological evaluation, an observed blunted affect can help steer the clinician to a diagnosis.

A blunted affect can be a sign of a mental disorder, and a person's failure to express emotion in what is considered to be a "normal" fashion can be confusing to others. It is important to note, however, that an appropriate affect is often culturally based. Some cultures frown upon excessive expressions of emotion and consider self control, even of one's facial expressions, to be a sign of maturity.

When a mental health clinician evaluates a patient, the patient's affect, or how they externally express their emotions, is usually carefully observed. Patients who do not display emotions appropriately may be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder if they have other symptoms that correspond with that disorder. The reasons for a blunted affect can vary considerably. This has often been observed in soldiers who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; mental health professionals often note that the trauma of war can result in the solider attempting to disassociate from what he has experienced. Some have commented on the "thousand-yard stare" exhibited by some soldiers, which is an unfocused, wide-eyed gaze that can characterize blunted affect.

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While observing affect display is an important part of mental health diagnosis, culturally sensitive mental health professionals may attempt to make these observations with an understanding of cultural context. This is because appropriate affect can be subjective, depending on one's culture. In some cultures, open displays of emotion, both positive and negative, are considered appropriate and healthy. In other cultures, adults, especially, are expected to control external displays of emotion, even though they may internally experience a full and normal range of emotions.

Since blunted affect is often a symptom of a mental disorder, the condition itself usually is not treated, but a patient may eventually demonstrate more robust emotional expression as a result of effective treatment for the underlying condition. For example, if a patient with schizophrenia receives therapy and medication, he may become more animated and better able to engage with the outside world. Similarly, a patient with a personality or autistic spectrum disorder may respond well to therapy and begin to emote more freely. At the same time, cultural expectations as well as the personality of the individual receiving treatment are also likely to have an impact on any reversal of blunted affect.

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Discuss this Article

anon949755
Post 3

I think instead of looking at the person's outer reactions or cultural reactions, you should ask the person how they are feeling in a given situation and you can better gauge if a person is suffering from inappropriate emotional reactions.

For instance, if someone is talking to a person and is relaying a deep emotional situation to a person and they have no response, where they should have a deep emotional response and they repeatedly have the wrong responses to emotional displays, then you should have a clear idea that there may be something wrong with the person.

Telsyst
Post 2

Excellent point, Glasis. We should never assume that a person who does not react to a situation in a socially acceptable way is wrong, or that their reaction is voluntary.

People with these disorders are often introverted, shy and very sensitive to how others feel about them.

Instead of getting angry or annoyed with someone, try to recognize that they are struggling, be kind to them and offer to explain the situation, if you think it's appropriate.

Glasis
Post 1

The article mentions that it can be be difficult to understand people who do not react to situations in what is considered a normal way. Imagine how confusing these situations are for those people.

People who have autism, anxiety disorder, depression and other conditions like this really do not know what the normal emotion should be in a given situation.

A lot of times, these people need to be trained to even recognize different emotions in others. You may get angry at them, or sad at the situation, and they have no idea what they did.

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