Face value: Eye movements and the evaluation of facial crowds in social anxiety
SourceJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 42, 3, (2011), pp. 355-363
Article / Letter to editor
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Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
SubjectBehaviour Change and Well-being; Experimental Psychopathology and Treatment
Scientific evidence is equivocal on whether Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is characterized by a biased negative evaluation of (grouped) facial expressions, even though it is assumed that such a bias plays a crucial role in the maintenance of the disorder. To shed light on the underlying mechanisms of face evaluation in social anxiety, the eye movements of 22 highly socially anxious (SAs) and 21 non-anxious controls (NACs) were recorded while they rated the degree of friendliness of neutral-angry and smiling-angry face combinations. While the Crowd Rating Task data showed no significant differences between SAs and NACs, the resultant eye-movement patterns revealed that SAs, compared to NACs, looked away faster when the face first fixated was angry. Additionally, in SAs the proportion of fixated angry faces was significantly higher than for other expressions. Independent of social anxiety, these fixated angry faces were the best predictor of subsequent affect ratings for either group. Angry faces influence attentional processes such as eye movements in SAs and by doing so reflect biased evaluations. As these processes do not correlate with explicit ratings of faces, however, it remains unclear at what point implicit attentional behaviors lead to anxiety-prone behaviors and the maintenance of SAD. The relevance of these findings is discussed in the light of the current theories.
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