Affective Flattening: Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

Affective flattening is one of the evidence that mental disorders escape our preconceived schemes about what it means to suffer.

This is because people who experience this mental phenomenon, despite seeing their ability to experience emotions and express them reduced, do not feel discomfort due to this fact in itself, as would be expected from someone who is repressed, but rather in general. case suffers from the consequences that this fact generates in its social environment.

In this article we will see what they are Typical signs of emotional flattening its causes and the treatments associated with this phenomenon.

What is affective flattening?

Affective flattening is a psychological phenomenon related to the lack of expression and experimentation of emotions In fact, this condition is also simply called emotional indifference, since those who experience it act as if they were not interested in the emotional background, their own or that of others, of the situations they experience.

For example, a person with emotional flattening may remain indifferent to a traffic accident with serious injuries, or not react when seeing a family member crying. In the same way, He will not appear to be very happy or very angry or it will be very difficult for him to react that way (or in a way that is timidly reminiscent of the expression of those emotions).

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

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Emotional indifference: symptoms

It must be taken into account that although emotional flattening almost always goes hand in hand with other symptoms that damage the person’s quality of life, in itself it is neither sadness nor stupor, nor any other state that generates psychological pain. It is not only the absence of intense positive emotions, but also the significant reduction in the frequency and intensity with which negative emotional states occur.

Now, it must be taken into account that there is no pure emotional flattening, and most people who experience this condition firsthand can experience emotions to a greater or lesser extent, even if only in exceptionally important situations. As in any psychological trait, the expression and experience of emotions goes in quantities, not everything is β€œeither yes or no.”

The difference with anhedonia

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

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

The difference with depression

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

While depressive disorders generate anhedonia and general decline in mood, people with affective flattening do not notice depression. They simply experience emotions in a very intense way, or they do not experience them at all: neither the positive ones nor the negative ones. That is why it is common that emotionally they do not say they have a problem, given that It is not something that causes them discomfort

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For example, a smoker not liking the taste of a cigarette is not the same as not being able to feel sorry for the death of a pet.

Causes of emotional flattening

The causes of affective 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 dementia stand out.

1. ASD

Some autistic people notice difficulties when experiencing emotions vividly and expressing them. This, added to the rest of the problems they have when communicating with others, makes their social relationships difficult.

2. Schizophrenia

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

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

3. Dementia

People with dementia may experience emotional flattening as a consequence of the progressive impoverishment of the variety of mental experiences they suffer due to brain degradation.


Affective flattening is not treated as something isolated, but as one of the manifestations of a mental disorder or illness. That is why the efforts of clinical intervention programs are directed at the root of this problem, something that depends on each case and the characteristics of the patients. Yes indeed, the use of psychotropic drugs is usually required

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