Imagine that you see someone crying and you cannot tell if that person is happy, sad, hurt, or scared. The Big Bang Theory has the character Sheldon often feel confused because he cannot tell when others are being sarcastic. Imagine that you could not empathize with others because you simply had no idea what they were feeling unless they told you.

Being able to look at our friends, our children, and others, and determine what they are feeling is a skill that you may not realize is important to you, until you no longer have the ability to use it.

MS Sufferers may not be aware that they have lost the ability

According to Helen Genova, PhD most people who have MS are completely aware of the fact that their memory starts to slip as the disease progresses. Genova, a research scientist with the Kessler Foundation in West Orange, New Jersey says that the majority of people who have MS do not know that they might lose their ability to see the emotions of others and recognize what they are.

Six Universal Emotions

There are six emotions that humans display, that everyone should be able to interpret. These are: happiness, surprise, disgust, anger, fear, and sadness. Genova and her research colleague Jean Lengenfelder, PhD hope to discover how many MS patients are incapable of recognizing these six universal emotions, and see if they can help find a way to re-establish recognition of them in patients who have lost the ability.

Testing for emotional recognition

The research team is taking participants who have MS and they are showing them pictures of faces that are displaying the six universal emotions. The pictures are shown to the patients two at a time with each face showing a different emotion.

The MS patients are asked to identify which face is showing expressions of a particular emotion.

Helping MS patients improve emotional recognition

It can be very difficult on the interpersonal relationships of MS patients who have lost the ability to determine the emotions of others. These people cannot look at the face of their boss and recognize anger, and they cannot look into the face of their child and see an emotional problem. The lack of recognition makes them appear to be uncaring to the rest of the world.

The research team says they have had success in teaching MS patients who have lost their emotional recognition ability to re-develop the skill.

It takes a period of twelve weeks for the research team to train a person to recognize the emotion another person is feeling according to the facial expressions they are making. After patients go through the twelve week course, they are more equipped to deal with relationships, and with life, because they can better understand the people in their lives.

What this means

Does this mean that all MS patients will lose the ability to recognize emotions in others? No, it does not. It means that doctors should be aware that MS patients could experience this complication and they should talk to their patients to see if they are having this problem.