Affective flattening: symptoms, causes and treatment

Emotional flattening is one of the proofs that mental disorders escape our preconceived notions of what it means to suffer.

Indeed, people who experience this mental phenomenon, although they see their ability to feel and express their emotions reduced, do not feel uncomfortable with this fact in itself, as one would expect. of someone who is repressed, but suffers in any case from the consequences. that this fact generates in his social environment.

In this article we will see what they are typical signs of emotional flattening, The causes and treatments associated with this phenomenon.

    What is affective flattening?

    Affective flattening is a psychological phenomenon linked to the lack of expression and the experimentation of emotions. In fact, this condition is also called simply emotional indifference, because whoever experiences it acts as if they are not interested in the emotional background, their own or someone else’s, of situations that ‘he lives.

    For example, a person with an emotional flattening may remain indifferent to a car crash with serious injuries, or fail to respond to seeing a family member cry for them. In the same way, he will not be very happy or very angry, Or it will be very difficult for you to react in this way (or in a way that timidly reminds you of the expression of these emotions).

    Additionally, as we will see, emotional flattening is a typical symptom of severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia, as well as dementia and other neurological diseases.

    Emotional indifference: symptoms

    It should be noted that while emotional flattening almost always goes hand in hand with other symptoms that affect the person’s quality of life, it is neither sadness nor stupor, nor any other condition that generates psychological pain. . It is not only the absence of strong positive emotions, but also the significant reduction in the frequency and intensity with which negative emotional states occur.

    Now keep this in mind there is no pure emotional flatteningAnd most people who experience this condition firsthand can experience emotions to a greater or lesser degree, even if only in the face of exceptionally important situations. As in any psychological trait, the expression and experience of emotions goes to quantities, not everything is “yes or no”.

    The difference with anhedonia

    Affective flattening is not exactly the same as anhedonia. The latter is, in the strict sense, the inability to experience pleasure.

    Although in many cases affective flattening and anhedonia go hand in hand, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the effects of one from the other (when they occur in the same individual), in flattening affective, indifference to emotions is global, while in anhedonia, it focuses only on the appreciation of pleasantness of experiences.

      The difference from depression

      Affective flattening should not be confused with the effect of depression on mood.

      While depressive disorders generate anhedonia and a general deterioration in mood, people with emotional flattening do not feel overwhelmed. They just experience emotions very involuntarily, or don’t feel them at all: neither the positive nor the negative. This is why it is common for them, in the emotional, not to say that they have a problem, because it is not something that causes them discomfort.

      For example, it is not the same as a smoker who dislikes the taste of a cigarette not to feel sorry for the death of a pet.

      Causes of emotional flattening

      The causes of emotional flattening almost always have to do with other problems and symptoms that constitute a mental disorder or neurological disease. In this sense, autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia and dementias stand out.

      1. TE

      Some people with autism find it difficult to experience emotions and express them. This, along with the other issues they have when it comes to communicating with others, makes their social relationships difficult.

        2. Schizophrenia

        In some patients with schizophrenia, emotional flattening is also common. This phenomenon would be one of the symptoms associated with severe psychological alterations caused by this pathology.

        Thus, in schizophrenia, affective flattening is one of the so-called negative symptoms, Those that have to do with the absence of certain psychological processes, and not with their excess or unwanted presence (the latter is what happens, for example, with hallucinations).

        3. Dementias

        People with dementia may experience emotional flattening due to the gradual impoverishment of the variety of mental experiences they undergo due to brain degradation.


        Affective flattening is not treated as an isolated thing, but as one of the manifestations of a mental disorder or illness. This is why the efforts of clinical intervention programs are directed at the root of this problem, which depends on each case and the characteristics of the patients. Of course the use of psychotropic drugs is usually required.

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