Comorbid anxiety disorder has a protective effect in conduct disorder

Last updated 20 December 2023

The presence of comorbid anxiety disorders (ADs) counteracts the effects of conduct disorder (CD) on facial emotion recognition, according to new research by Roxana Short and colleagues. In their 2016 study, the researchers compared the abilities of adolescents aged 12-18 years with CD (n=28), AD (n=23), co-occurring CD with AD (n=20) and typically developing controls (n=28) in recognising various emotions (anger, fear, happiness, sadness and disgust) in images of faces representing different levels of emotional intensity.

They found that adolescents with CD had a generalised impairment in emotion recognition compared to the other two groups, but this may have been mediated by group differences in IQ. By contrast, adolescents with AD alone showed increased sensitivity to low-intensity happiness, disgust and sadness, indicative of an enhanced performance over the other two groups. Most interestingly, the comorbid AD plus CD group showed a similar overall performance in facial emotion recognition ability as the control group. Based on these findings, the researchers propose that AD has a potentially protective role in CD, and that targeted interventions, such as emotion training, may be more effective in those with CD alone than those with comorbid AD.

Further research is now needed to examine the contribution of IQ and gender to these described effects.

Short, R.M.L., Sonuga-Barke, E.J.S., Adams, W.J. and Fairchild, G. (2016), Does comorbid anxiety counteract emotion recognition deficits in conduct disorder? J. Child. Pscyhol. Psychiatr. 57: 917-926. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12544.


Conduct disorder (CD): CD is characterised by behaviour that violates either the rights of others or major societal norms. To be diagnosed with conduct disorder, symptoms must cause significant impairment in social, academic or occupational functioning. The disorder is typically diagnosed prior to adulthood.

Dr Jessica Edwards
Jessica received her MA in Biological Sciences and her DPhil in Neurobehavioural Genetics from the University of Oxford (Magdalen College). After completing her post-doctoral research, she moved into scientific editing and publishing, first working for Spandidos Publications (London, UK) and then moving to Nature Publishing Group. Jessica is now a freelance editor and science writer, and started writing for “The Bridge” in December 2017.


I am just wondering if it is the learning ability and speech and language impairment that contributes to conduct disorder.Speech & language processing difficulties are somewhat underestimated as factors in conduct disorder and intervention does lead to significant improvements both in anxiety and conduct.

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