HIV May Inhibit Fear Recognition In Infected Individuals, Study Finds

Kim LaCapria

People with HIV may have inhibited fear recognition ability, a new study has found, and are less likely to become fearful in situations where uninfected individuals may find themselves frightened or afraid.

The study on HIV and fear was published in the open-access journal BMC Psychology and seems to expand upon previous discoveries regarding the "subtle cognitive" damage HIV infection can cause in people living with the virus.

According to LiveScience, the HIV and fear link may have been portended in previous studies, where "abnormalities in the frontostriatal region" of the brain were observed alongside HIV infection as the virus' effect may have been taking hold long-term.

Study researcher Eleonora Baldonero of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome explained of the HIV and fear study that "frontostriatal structures are involved in facial emotion recognition, so [it was] expected that HIV-positive subjects were impaired in facial emotion recognition tasks."

The site explains of the HIV fear recognition findings, noting that fear is a particularly challenging feeling to pinpoint:

" ... HIV-positive patients were less accurate at identifying fear compared with the healthy adults, the researchers found. Even patients without any other signs of cognitive struggles on the other neurological tests performed worse than healthy people at telling when a face was fearful ... Fear might provide a particular challenge, because other research has shown it to be the most difficult emotion to recognize, Baldonero said. It's also possible that HIV affects specific brain regions that are more important for processing fear than other emotions."

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In an email, Baldonero explained:

"The two abilities (emotion and cognitive) may be subject to the integrity of the same brain areas ... It would be useful to explore this issue in future studies."