Previous studies have found that the processing of faces and voices is negatively biased in major depression. Naranjo and colleagues were the first to investigate possible effects of major depression on the recognition of emotion in music. According to the authors:
as music is not directly linked to interpersonal communication, comparing a musical task with a facial and a vocal one will allow us to determine whether the impaired processing of emotional stimuli in depression is limited to interpersonal contexts
23 depressed patients and 23 matched healthy controls participated in this study. Their affective information processing was assessed through musical, vocal and facial emotion recognition tasks. Depressed participants were found to be impaired in all tasks. More specifically:
Depressed participants were less accurate in their recognition of peaceful and happy musical excerpts, for neutral and surprised voices and fearful, neutral and angry faces (whether displayed briefly or for a longer period). The depressed participants rated the intensity of the emotion higher than the control group for sad and frightening musical excerpts, and for the negative emotions of sadness, anger and fear in vocal and facial stimuli. However the depressed participants rated the peaceful musical excerpts less intense than the control group. Neutral voices and faces were frequently interpreted by depressed participants as expressing a negative emotion
These results show that there is a general emotional processing impairment in depressed participants. However, it’s hard to say that this impairment is due to the disorder itself. It could possibly be attributed to the anti-depressant medication all the participants were taking – previous research on this topic suggests that blunting of emotion is one of the effects of medication in healthy participants (Fu et al., 2004).
Naranjo, C., Kornreich, C., Campanella, S., Noel, X., Vandriette, Y., Gillain, B., de Longueville, X., Delatte, B., Verbanck, P., & Constant, E. (2010). Major depression is associated with impaired processing of emotion in music as well as in facial and vocal stimuli Journal of Affective Disorders :
(pic from here)