In medicine, “affect” refers to a person’s emotional expression and the outward display of their emotional state. It is an important component of the mental status examination, which is a standard part of a psychiatric evaluation.
Affect can be described as either normal or abnormal. Normal affect is when a person’s emotional expression is appropriate to the situation or context, while abnormal affect refers to a discordance between the emotional expression and the situation. For example, someone might display a flat affect, meaning they show little or no emotional expression, even when discussing something that would normally elicit a strong emotional response. Conversely, someone might display a labile affect, meaning their emotional expression fluctuates rapidly and inappropriately, such as laughing during a serious conversation.
Assessing a person’s affect is important in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. It can also be a helpful indicator of a person’s overall mental and emotional well-being.