Whilst alterations in emotional face processing, as indicated by event-related potentials (ERPs), are associated with depression and anxiety symptoms in clinical and non-clinical samples, it has remained unclear whether they are related to mental wellbeing. The current study aimed to address this question in a non-clinical sample. The analysis included 402 adult twins from the TWIN-E study. The COMPAS-W and the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS-42) were used to measure mental wellbeing and depression/anxiety symptoms, respectively. Participants viewed facial expressions under Unmasked (conscious) and Masked (subliminal) conditions while ERPs were recorded. The associations of emotion processing with mental wellbeing and depression/anxiety symptoms were assessed using multivariate linear mixed models. There was a strong association between depression/anxiety symptoms and the N170 amplitude difference for the Fear – Happy contrast in the Masked condition after controlling for wellbeing scores (B = 0.34, p < .001). Specifically, higher depression/anxiety symptoms were associated with a lack of differentiation between fearful and happy faces. No associations were found between emotional face processing and mental wellbeing scores. These results indicate that even within a non-clinical sample, alterations in emotional ERPs, namely the N170, reflect differences in depression/anxiety symptoms rather than differences in wellbeing. Furthermore, this effect was limited to automatic processing, rather than conscious processing of emotional stimuli, suggesting the observed differences apply only to the subconscious pathway.
- Mental health