Morphed emotional faces: emotion detection and misinterpretation in social anxiety.J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2010 Dec; 41(4):418-25.JB
The current study investigated detection and interpretation of emotional facial expressions in high socially anxious (HSA) individuals compared to non-anxious controls (NAC). A version of the morphed faces task was implemented to assess emotion onset perception, decoding accuracy and interpretation, either with time pressure (Restricted Viewing Task, RVT) or with unlimited viewing (Free Viewing Task, FVT). Twenty-seven HSA and 30 NAC viewed sequences of neutral faces slowly changing to full-intensity angry, happy, or disgust expressions. Participants were instructed to assign the expression as soon as possible to one of four given emotion categories (angry, contempt, disgust, or happy). While no group differences were found for emotion onset perception or decoding performance, the results suggest an interpretation bias in HSA. Under the RVT condition, HSA demonstrated a threat bias (disgust interpreted as contempt), contrasting the NAC's positive bias (disgust interpreted as happy). No group differences were found in the FVT. We suggest that socially anxious individuals tend to misinterpret facial expressions as threatening when they must do so quickly and efficiently, as in real life.