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Front Psychol. 2017 Jun 23;8:1059. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01059. eCollection 2017.

Unconscious Processing of Facial Expressions in Individuals with Internet Gaming Disorder.

Peng X1,2, Cui F1,2, Wang T1, Jiao C1,2,3.

Author information

1
College of Psychology and Sociology, Shenzhen UniversityShenzhen, China.
2
Shenzhen Key Laboratory of Affective and Social Cognitive Science, Shenzhen UniversityShenzhen, China.
3
Faculty of Humanities and Social Science, City University of MacauMacau, China.

Abstract

Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) is characterized by impairments in social communication and the avoidance of social contact. Facial expression processing is the basis of social communication. However, few studies have investigated how individuals with IGD process facial expressions, and whether they have deficits in emotional facial processing remains unclear. The aim of the present study was to explore these two issues by investigating the time course of emotional facial processing in individuals with IGD. A backward masking task was used to investigate the differences between individuals with IGD and normal controls (NC) in the processing of subliminally presented facial expressions (sad, happy, and neutral) with event-related potentials (ERPs). The behavioral results showed that individuals with IGD are slower than NC in response to both sad and neutral expressions in the sad-neutral context. The ERP results showed that individuals with IGD exhibit decreased amplitudes in ERP component N170 (an index of early face processing) in response to neutral expressions compared to happy expressions in the happy-neutral expressions context, which might be due to their expectancies for positive emotional content. The NC, on the other hand, exhibited comparable N170 amplitudes in response to both happy and neutral expressions in the happy-neutral expressions context, as well as sad and neutral expressions in the sad-neutral expressions context. Both individuals with IGD and NC showed comparable ERP amplitudes during the processing of sad expressions and neutral expressions. The present study revealed that individuals with IGD have different unconscious neutral facial processing patterns compared with normal individuals and suggested that individuals with IGD may expect more positive emotion in the happy-neutral expressions context.

HIGHLIGHTS:

• The present study investigated whether the unconscious processing of facial expressions is influenced by excessive online gaming. A validated backward masking paradigm was used to investigate whether individuals with Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) and normal controls (NC) exhibit different patterns in facial expression processing.• The results demonstrated that individuals with IGD respond differently to facial expressions compared with NC on a preattentive level. Behaviorally, individuals with IGD are slower than NC in response to both sad and neutral expressions in the sad-neutral context. The ERP results further showed (1) decreased amplitudes in the N170 component (an index of early face processing) in individuals with IGD when they process neutral expressions compared with happy expressions in the happy-neutral expressions context, whereas the NC exhibited comparable N170 amplitudes in response to these two expressions; (2) both the IGD and NC group demonstrated similar N170 amplitudes in response to sad and neutral faces in the sad-neutral expressions context.• The decreased amplitudes of N170 to neutral faces than happy faces in individuals with IGD might due to their less expectancies for neutral content in the happy-neutral expressions context, while individuals with IGD may have no different expectancies for neutral and sad faces in the sad-neutral expressions context.

KEYWORDS:

ERPs; Internet Gaming Disorder; N170; backward masking; unconscious facial processing

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