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Physiol Behav. 2008 Jan 28;93(1-2):172-6. Epub 2007 Aug 25.

Social anxiety predicts unconsciously provoked emotional responses to facial expression.

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Department of Psychiatry, National Defense Medical College, 3-2 Namiki, Tokorozawa, Saitama, 3598513 Japan.


Previous psychometric studies using a visual search task suggested that interpersonal fear in individuals with social anxiety disorder (SAD) may be processed by unconscious preattentive mechanisms. However, little is known about relationships between social anxiety and preattentive emotional responses. We explored whether social anxiety is associated with preattentive emotional responses to facial expression. Groups with high and low social anxiety were selected from 125 healthy volunteers according to scores on the Social Phobia Inventory. Fearful and happy faces were presented subliminally using backward masking, with skin conductance responses (SCRs) being measured as an autonomic index of emotional responses. SCRs to these two facial expressions were compared between groups. The group with high social anxiety showed significantly greater differences in SCRs between masked fearful and happy faces than the group with low social anxiety. Social anxiety was associated with unconscious autonomic responses to fearful faces. A preattentive interpersonal threat evaluation system may be an important factor in SAD.

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