Blunted Affect: Definition & Overview

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  • 0:01 What is Affect?
  • 0:45 Blunted Affect
  • 2:05 Blunted Affect VS. Flat Affect
  • 2:50 Blunted Affect as a Symptom
  • 3:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Blunted affect refers to a reduction in the intensity of an individual's emotional response. Learn about blunted affect, how it is different from flat affect, its relation to mental disorders, and more in this lesson.

What is Affect?

Think of how you express your emotions to others. Do you move your hands when you speak? Do you change your facial expressions for dramatic effect? Does your tone of voice change when you are stressed or excited? If so, then you already know how to convey affect.

In psychology, the term affect refers to an outward expression of emotion as observed by others. Affect can be thought of as an objective, external expression of emotion. In other words, it's all about perception. Affect is observed through both verbal and nonverbal behavior. Your tone of voice, body movements, and facial expressions are all ways in which you express your affect.

Blunted Affect

So, what does the term 'blunted affect' mean? Blunted affect refers to a reduction in the intensity of an individual's emotional response. The emotional response of an individual with blunted affect is a lot weaker than one would expect in similar circumstances.

Imagine that you got a phone call and were told that you had just won the lottery. Your immediate response would probably be to scream or drop the phone in excitement. Your heart rate would increase, and you'd probably run around the house or jump up and down from the joy of winning such a large sum of money. A person with blunted affect would respond to the same news by shrugging his or her shoulders, voicing thanks in a monotone voice, or maybe even not respond to the news at all. His or her response would be dull and reveal very little emotion.

Individuals with blunted affect may be perceived as being unresponsive to the world around them, regardless of the circumstances. Blunted affect is most apparent in situations where a strong emotional response is normally expected. For example, a person with blunted affect who receives news of a loved one's passing may respond with complete indifference; they may verbalize their sadness, but keep a straight face, or they may give an emotionless reply such as, 'Okay. Thank you for telling me.'

Blunted Affect vs. Flat Affect

Blunted affect is very similar to flat affect. Both refer to the level of a person's emotional responses. Individuals with blunted affect still show some emotion, although they are not as strong as what is typically expected. Individuals with flat affect do not express any emotions. There is very little or no outward emotional response to situations, regardless of the circumstances.

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