Understanding the communication of people with profound learning and multiple disabilities provides a daily challenge to those supporting them. There are a number of guides and aids available to support this process, such as those developed through Mencap’s Involve Me project
We recently posted the results of a small study looking at the relationship between behavioural observations of emotional states and physiological changes, such as changes in respiration and heart rate variability. See me, feel me.
In this study, the same team of researchers were interested in looking at the relationship between mood and emotions in people with severe and profound learning disabilities, using behavioural observations.
They set out to look at the frequency and intensity of the emotion separately.
What they did was work with twenty-seven people with severe and profound learning disabilities over a period of three weeks. In that time, the researchers presented the individuals with four staff-selected negative and four staff-selected positive stimuli.
Whilst this was happening, the participants were videotaped. Their behaviours were coded on a 5-point scale, ranging from indicating very negative emotion to very positive emotion.
At the beginning of the 3 weeks period, staff completed the Mood, Interest and Pleasure Questionnaire (MIPQ), a 25-item Likert scale questionnaire with two subscales (Mood and Interest and Pleasure).
What they found was that there was a positive relationship between mood, the total emotion score and the frequency of the emotion when stimuli were positive.
However, when stimuli were negative, there was no relationship.
They also found no relationship between mood and the intensity of the emotion.
The authors suggest that their findings add weight to the idea that mood and emotions in people with severe and profound learning disabilities can be distinguished from each other using behavioural observations.
They suggest that both mood and emotions can therefore be used to provide specific information about the experience of people with severe or profound learning disabilities.
This is clearly a small study and there is a significant amount of further exploration of the idea required in further research.
The authors suggest that a practical application of their findings however could be the development of an approach for direct support workers that would enable them to monitor changes in the frequency of reactions to positive stimuli, which could provide valuable insight into changes in mood.
Investigating the relationship between observed mood and emotions in people with severe and profound intellectual disabilities, Vos, P et al., in Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 57: 440–451.