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Behav Res Ther. 2007 Jun;45(6):1285-94. Epub 2006 Nov 20.

Detection of emotional expressions in rapidly changing facial displays in high- and low-socially anxious women.

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Department of Clinical and Developmental Clinical Psychology, University of Groningen, Grote Kruisstraat 1/2, 9712 Groningen, The Netherlands.


Facial information and attention to facial displays are distributed over spatial as well as temporal domains. Thus far, research on selective attention to (dis)approving faces in the context of social anxiety has concentrated primarily on the spatial domain. Using a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) paradigm, the present study examined the temporal characteristics of visual attention for happy and angry faces in high- (n=16) and low-socially anxious individuals (n=17), to test whether also in the temporal domain socially anxious individuals are characterized by threat-confirming attentional biases. Results indicated that presenting angry faces as the first target (T1) did not aggravate the detection of the emotional expression of the second target (T2). Yet, participants generally showed superior detection of the emotional expression of T2, if T2 was an angry face. Casting doubt on the role of such attenuated attentional blink for angry faces in social anxiety, no evidence emerged to indicate that this effect was relatively strong in high-socially anxious individuals. Finally, the presentation of an angry face as T2 resulted in a relatively hampered identification of a happy-T1. Again, this "backward blink" was not especially pronounced in high-socially anxious individuals. The present anger superiority effects are consistent with evolutionary models stressing the importance of being especially vigilant for signals of dominance. Since the effects were not especially pronounced in high-anxious individuals, the present study adds to previous findings indicating that socially anxious individuals are not characterized by a bias in the (explicit) detection of emotional expressions [Philippot, P., & Douilliez, C. (2005). Social phobics do not misinterpret facial expression of emotion. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 43, 639-652].

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