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Affective flattening: symptoms, causes and treatment

Affective flattening: symptoms, causes and treatment

May 4, 2024

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

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

In this article we will see what they are the typical signals of affective flattening , its causes and the treatments associated with this phenomenon.

  • Related article: "The 16 most common mental disorders"

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 called simply emotional indifference, because those who experience it act as if they do not care about the emotional background, their own or someone else's, of the situations they are living.

For example, a person with emotional flattening can remain indifferent to a traffic accident with serious injuries, or not react when seeing a family member cries. In the same way, it will not prove to be very happy or very angry , or it will be very difficult to react in that way (or in a way that timidly recalls the expression of those emotions).

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

Emotional indifference: symptoms

Keep in mind that although the affective flattening almost always goes hand in hand with other symptoms that damage the quality of life of the person, 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, you have to keep in mind that there is no pure affective 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 to quantities, not everything is "or 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 it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the effects of one from the other (when occurring in the same individual), in the affective flattening the indifference towards the emotions is global, while what in anhedonia focuses only on the appreciation of the pleasant character of experiences.

  • Related article: "Anhedonia: the inability to feel pleasure"

The difference with depression

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

While depressive disorders generate anhedonia and general mood decay, people with affective flattening do not notice declines. Simply, they live the emotions in a very little intense way, or they do not experience them at all: neither the positive 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 .

For example, it is not the same thing that a smoker does not appreciate the taste of a cigarette so he can not feel sorry for the death of a pet.

Causes of affective 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, Autistic Spectrum Disorders, schizophrenia and dementias stand out.

1. TEA

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

  • Related article: "Autism Spectrum Disorders: 10 Symptoms and Diagnosis"

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.

So, in schizophrenia affective flattening 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 (this last is what happens, for example, with hallucinations).

3. Dementias

People with dementia may develop affective flattening as a result of the progressive impoverishment of the variety of mental experiences they suffer from 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 the clinical intervention programs are directed to the root of this problem, something that depends on each case and the characteristics of the patients. Yes, the use of psychopharmaceuticals is usually required .

  • Maybe you're interested: "Types of psychotropic drugs: uses and side effects"

What is Emotional Flatlining? (Anhedonia, No Feelings) (May 2024).

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