Visual search paradigms have provided evidence for the enhanced capture of attention by threatening faces. Especially in social anxiety, hypervigilance for threatening faces has been found repeatedly across behavioral paradigms, whose reliability however have been questioned recently. In this EEG study, we sought to determine whether the detection of threat (angry faces) is specifically enhanced in individuals with high (HSA) compared to low social anxiety (LSA). In a visual search paradigm, the N2pc component of the event-related brain potential was measured as an electrophysiological indicator of attentional selection. Twenty-one HSA and twenty-one LSA participants were investigated while searching for threatening or friendly targets within an array of neutral faces, or neutral targets within threatening or friendly distractors. Whereas no differences were found in reaction times, HSA showed significant higher detection rates for angry faces, whereas LSA showed a clear ‘happiness bias’. HSA also showed enhanced N2pc amplitudes in response to emotional facial expressions (angry and happy), indicating a general attentional bias for emotional faces. Overall, the results show that social anxiety may be characterized not only by a spatial attentional bias for threatening faces, but for emotional faces in general. In addition, the results further demonstrate the utility of the N2pc component in capturing subtle attentional biases.

, , , ,,
Biological Psychology
Department of Psychology

Wieser, M., Hambach, A. (Anna), & Weymar, M. (Mathias). (2018). Neurophysiological correlates of attentional bias for emotional faces in socially anxious individuals – Evidence from a visual search task and N2pc. Biological Psychology, 132, 192–201. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2018.01.004