Face value: processing of emotional expressions in social anxiety
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[S.l. : s.n.]
Number of pages
RU Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, 9 februari 2009
Promotor : Becker, E.S. Co-promotores : Keijsers, G.P.J., Rinck, M.
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SW OZ BSI KLP
SW OZ BSI KLP
SubjectExperimental Psychopathology and Treatment
People suffering from social anxiety disorder (SAD) are constantly worried about how they come across to other people. Their foremost fear is to be rejected and eventually abandoned. Cognitive theories suggest that SAD is characterized by a tendency to interpret (ambiguous) social cues such as (emotional) facial expressions as threatening, but evidence is far from coherent. The aim of this thesis was to investigate in how far differential processing of emotional faces is mediated by the degree of social anxiety. Specifically, we addressed different facets of potentially biased cognitive processes such as visual attention, attentional disengagement, attentional narrowing, emotion recognition, eye movements, approach-avoidance behavior and explicit ratings. The results presented throughout this work give rise to the notion that emotional facial expressions, and especially angry faces are solely seen as disproportionally negative by socially anxious individuals (SAs), and as such do not interfere with threat-related (covert) attentional processes. Although anxiety research still lacks a clear distinction between determinants of 'threat-' and 'non-threat but negative' evaluations, it seems as if even angry faces are not intrinsically threatening to all SAs. Consequently, SAs show behaviors related to automatic negative evaluation such as impulsive avoidance tendencies. This does not necessarily imply that they display responses related to the presence of threat in the visual field such as diminished IOR or constriction of the attentional focus. Taken together, we concluded that in social anxiety, facial expressions such as anger and happiness may acquire, due to genetic predisposition and learning history, a prominent negative evaluation. Such an evaluation eventually becomes automated and ignites aversion-related, reflex-like behavioral tendencies such as avoidance. These evaluative processes, however, do not tab into conscious face evaluation processes. In the general discussion the theoretical and methodological implications as well as suggestions for future research are being put forward
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