Patients with bipolar disorder might experience more complex negative emotions in response to positive music than typical adults, even when in a euthymic state, Dr. Sabine Choppin of the University of Rennes 1 (France) and colleagues reported.

Researchers recruited 21 patients with bipolar disorder in a euthymic phase and 21 matched healthy controls for the study. First, participants rated their emotional reactivity on two self-report scales: the Emotion Reactivity Scale (ERS) and the Multidimensional Assessment of Thymic States Scale (MAThyS). Next, they used headphones to listen to a series of 12 instrumental music excerpts lasting 45 seconds each with their eyes closed. After each musical selection, they were asked to rate how strongly they had experienced each of the nine emotional categories on the Geneva Emotional Music Scale: joy, sadness, tension, wonder, peacefulness, power, tenderness, nostalgia, and transcendence.

Statistical analyses showed that patients in the bipolar disorder group had a mean score of 41.2 on the ERS, compared with a mean score of 22.9 among healthy controls. In addition, bipolar disorder patients reported experiencing more tension and sadness than did healthy controls when listening to positive musical excerpts that had been classified as inducing joy and wonder.

“This finding tallies with the negative emotional bias displayed by depressed patients, who tend to experience more negative emotions than healthy controls,” the authors wrote. “Bipolar patients struggle so much to regulate their own positive emotions that it creates a chronic source of distress, which could be experienced as a negative emotion.”

Read the article in the Journal of Affective Disorders (2016 Feb;191:15-23. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2015.10.063).