Moral fixations: The role of moral integrity and social anxiety in the selective avoidance of social threat
Number of pages
SourceBiological Psychology, 122, (2017), pp. 51-58
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ BSI KLP
SubjectExperimental Psychopathology and Treatment
People derive their sense of belonging from perceptions of being a moral person. Research moreover suggests that social cues of rejection rapidly influence visual scanning, and result in avoidant gaze behavior, especially in socially anxious individuals. With the current eye-tracking experiment, we therefore examined whether moral integrity threats and affirmations influence selective avoidance of social threat, and how this varies with individual differences in social anxiety. Fifty-nine participants retrieved a memory of a past immoral, moral, or neutral act. Next, participants passively viewed angry, happy, and neutral faces, while we recorded how often they first fixated on the eyes. In addition, we administered the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (1987). Participants first fixated less on angry eyes compared to happy or neutral eyes when their moral integrity was threatened, and this selective avoidance was enhanced with increasing social anxiety. Following a moral affirmation, however, participants no longer selectively avoided the eyes of angry faces, regardless of individual differences in social anxiety. The results thus suggest that both low and high socially anxious people adjust their social gaze behavior in response to threats and affirmations of their moral integrity, pointing to the importance of the social context when considering affective processing biases.
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