A person’s affect is the expression of emotion or feelings displayed to others through facial expressions, hand gestures, voice tone, and other emotional signs such as laughter or tears. Affect refers to an outward expression of emotions as observed by others. Individual affect or emotional responsiveness fluctuates according to emotional state, meaning it is as unique as the individual experiencing it. A normal range of affect includes a broad range, varying from sadness, anger, optimistic, happiness, etc. Affect varies from experience to experience, person to person, different age groups, culture to culture, and even within a culture. Certain individuals may use expansive emotions or behavioral responsiveness, gesturing prolifically while speaking or describing an event. Others may show little outward response to social environments or interactions, expressing a narrow range of emotions to the outside world.

Unfortunately, some people with psychological disorders may display variations in their affect, at time not displaying an emotional response, inappropriate emotional response, or very limited response. A restricted or constricted affect describes a mild restriction in the range or intensity of display of feelings. As the reduction in display of emotion becomes more severe, the term blunted affect may be applied. The absence of any exhibition of emotions is characterized as flattened or flat affect where the voice is monotone, the face expressionless, and the body immobile. Labile affect describes emotional instability or dramatic mood swings. When the person exhibits an outward display of emotion that is identified as being out of context for the situation, such as laughter while describing pain or sadness, the affect is termed “inappropriate.”

The characteristic trait of a blunted affect is not expressing feelings either verbally, expressing emotions in a restricted manner, or inappropriately in regards to the event. Emotional flatness can also include behaviors, such as responding to negative events in and situations that lack emotional expressiveness. Behavioral flatness can include blank facial expressions, sluggish or rigid body language, lack of movement, etc. A person with blunted affect might give a detailed account of an emotionally charged memory but show no emotions. For example, a person discussing a recent death of a loved one or close personal friend may relay the information sort of in terms of someone reporting the news, factually, but void of any emotion.

Symptoms of Flattened Affect Include:

  • Monotone voice
  • Lack of emotional responsiveness
  • Lack of physical responsiveness or rigidity
  • Apathetic
  • Reduced eye contact