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

Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, USA.
Journal of Abnormal Psychology (Impact Factor: 5.15). 09/2008; 117(3):680-5. DOI: 10.1037/0021-843X.117.3.680
Source: PubMed


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.

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Available from: Richard E Zinbarg
    • "Stimuli were black and white images of human faces with neutral expressions, selected from the Gur (Gur et al., 2002) and Karolinska (Lundqvist et al., 1998; Goeleven et al., 2008) datasets, two standard sets of emotional expression. For each participant, an equal number of male and female faces were used for each exposure level; model-code numbers are included in Appendix A. We used neutral faces for several reasons: relatively mild stimuli, like non-emotional faces, may be ideal for eliciting individual differences (Lissek et al., 2006); and recent studies demonstrate that patients with social anxiety respond differently to neutral faces (Cooney et al., 2006; Yoon and Zinbarg, 2008). All stimuli were edited to ensure uniform face size, eye position and nose position, and all extraneous features (e.g. "
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    ABSTRACT: Face recognition is fundamental to successful social interaction. Individuals with deficits in face recognition are likely to have social functioning impairments that may lead to heightened risk for social anxiety. A critical component of social interaction is how quickly a face is learned during initial exposure to a new individual. Here, we used a novel Repeated Faces task to assess how quickly memory for faces is established. Face recognition was measured over multiple exposures in 52 young adults ranging from low to high in social inhibition, a core dimension of social anxiety. High social inhibition was associated with a smaller slope of change in recognition memory over repeated face exposure, indicating participants with higher social inhibition showed smaller improvements in recognition memory after seeing faces multiple times. We propose that impaired face learning is an important mechanism underlying social inhibition and may contribute to, or maintain, social anxiety.
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    • "The incidental learning task was originally developed to indirectly evaluate individuals' interpretation of ambiguous facial expressions (Yoon and Zinbarg, 2008). Yoon and Zinbarg (2008) used negative and positive facial expressions and we substituted pain-related and happy facial expressions . The only difference between the paradigms other than the stimuli was that we simplified the task, such that instead of four target locations used in their study, we used a modified version of task with two target locations on the right and left side of the fixation cross (Khatibi et al., 2014). "
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    ABSTRACT: Background The aim of this study was to investigate the impact of chronic pain on interpretation bias for ambiguous faces, using a recently developed paradigm with ecologically valid stimuli.Methods Fifty patients with chronic pain and 25 healthy controls were trained to respond to probes following the presentation of happy or painful faces, using an incidental learning task. During a test phase, ambiguous faces were presented. The degree to which participants were faster to respond to probes presented where painful (rather than happy) faces had previously been presented was taken as an indication of the interpretation bias towards painful faces.ResultsAll participants had learnt the originally presented contingency. As predicted, chronic pain patients showed a greater bias towards interpreting ambiguous faces as painful than control participants. Further, there were correlations between fear of pain and catastrophizing and interpretation bias, indicating that participants with higher fear of pain and higher scores on a measure of catastrophizing were more likely to interpret ambiguous faces as painful. Severity of pain was inversely associated with increased interpretation bias for pain.Conclusion These results show clear evidence that chronic pain patients do demonstrate an interpretation bias towards painful faces and that this bias is greater for those who catastrophize more and have higher levels of fear of pain, but experienced less pain in the preceding week. Given the recent potential shown for interventions that modify cognitive biases, this paradigm would seem to be well suited to future efforts to modify interpretation biases in pain.
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    • "The current findings suggest a potential intervention target for socially anxious individuals' tendency to interpret facial expressions in a negative manner (e.g., Yoon and Zinbarg 2008): An intervention could help them adopt a more stringent criterion. In this regard, interpretation bias training paradigms in which socially anxious individuals are trained to adopt more benign interpretations (e.g., Murphy et al. 2007) might shift socially anxious individuals' response criterion for threat information. "
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    ABSTRACT: Social anxiety is associated with tendencies to perceive other people’s facial expressions in a negative manner. Two independent factors, sensitivity to and response criteria for emotional faces, may contribute to this bias. By applying signal detection theory and employing morphed facial stimuli with equated levels of intensity, we examined sensitivity to and response criteria for faces that were subtly angry or happy with a sample of 88 college students. Higher levels of social anxiety were associated with both greater sensitivity to mild anger and tendencies to label facial expressions as angry. In contrast, levels of social anxiety were not significantly associated with either sensitivity to or response criteria for mildly happy faces. These results indicate that the processing of negative facial expressions in social anxiety is affected by both greater sensitivity to the detection of threats and a bias for judging ambiguous social cues as threatening.
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