Recent studies have shown that it is more difficult for a person with HIV to effectively read the emotional expressions of others than for those who do not. Those suffering recall loss found it difficult to discern fear on a person’s face, while those who were suffering from reduced neurocognitive performance found it difficult to discern whether or not a person was happy.

Many parts of the brain are involved in interpreting emotions via facial expression, for example the amygdala (controls emotions and memory) and the frontostriatal pathway (for learning and adapting to behavior patterns) – without these function it becomes difficult to interact with others, and this can have a strong impact on a person’s day to day activities.

HIV patients in general were weakest at identifying fear in the expressions of others, while in particular those who had a greater progression of the disease and had suffered from pneumonia, TB, and other health conditions were far less able to recognize happiness.

While antiretrovirals have done much to reduce the neurological effects of HIV, it is clear that some damage still occurs – this research is therefore a key part in recognizing the need for continuing research in the combating of HIV’s neurological effects.

There are six basic and easily recognizable emotions humans are able to express with their face – besides the two that we have discussed here (fear and happiness) there are also disgust, anger, surprise, and sadness.

As you can imagine, losing the ability to distinguish between these emotions in the face of another human is a significant event that can make it difficult to interact with others, and may well encourage a person to seek isolation. Finding a way to stave off these mental effects of HIV is a critical matter in maintaining the quality of life of patients – recognition that this occurs is the first step.