Interpreting Neutral Faces as Threatening Is a Default Mode for Socially Anxious Individuals

K. Lira Yoon*, Richard E. Zinbarg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations

Abstract

The authors of the present study used an incidental learning paradigm to investigate the interpretation of neutral facial expressions in socially anxious individuals. Participants were asked to detect the location of a target following the presentation of a facial picture (i.e., cue). Unbeknownst to participants, the target location was contingent on the valence of the cue, and participants thus learned to associate different target locations with either positive or negative facial expressions. The authors subsequently used this learned association to assess interpretive biases. If socially anxious individuals interpret neutral faces in a negative manner, they should be faster to detect a target that appears in the location that is associated with negative face cues when the target is presented after a neutral face cue. The authors also assessed whether the anticipation of a feared situation influenced interpretive biases by comparing participants with and without a speech threat on this task. Results indicate that socially anxious individuals are characterized by an interpretive bias regardless of the threat manipulation. In contrast, nonanxious individuals interpreted neutral faces in a negative manner only when they were in the threat condition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)680-685
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of abnormal psychology
Volume117
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2008

Keywords

  • face
  • interpretive bias
  • social anxiety

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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