Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 107 (2017) pp. 10-16 Published by Elsevier Ltd
Facial expressions can convey disapproval or rejection, which is highly relevant information for socially anxious observers. We investigated how social anxiety biases the interpretation of ambiguous expressions towards threat. Undergraduates with clinical levels of social anxiety and non-anxious controls were presented with 1-s video-clips displaying facial happiness, anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and surprise, at various levels of emotional intensity, or neutral expressions. Participants categorized the expressions. Social anxiety was associated with enhanced detection of anger and disgust at low intensity levels, relative to non-anxious controls. Also, social anxiety was related to a higher probability of interpreting emotionally “neutral” faces as angry. A′ sensitivity was affected, with no effects on B″ response criterion. Socially anxious individuals are likely to perceive hostility, disapproval, or dislike in ambiguous facial expressions (with low intensity signals of anger/disgust, or “neutrality”). The effect involves an interpretative bias that occurs during expression encoding and is not contaminated by response biases.
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