Memory and attention for social threat: anxious hypercoding-avoidance and submissive gaze aversion.Emotion. 2012 Aug; 12(4):666-72.E
Rivalry for dominance is a recurrent challenge in human social interaction. During these social dominance interactions, some people rapidly break eye contact, whereas others merely try to avoid such eye-to-eye confrontations. The first is an example of submissive gaze aversion, whereas the second reflects anxious gaze avoidance. We tested these distinct forms of gaze behavior within a social-memory setting and show that anxious individuals vigilantly attend to, superiorly remember, and subsequently avoid social threats (i.e., angry faces). Furthermore, submissive individuals, as indexed by high trait anxiety and low trait anger, exhibit rapid gaze aversion from facial anger. Mechanisms of hypervigilance-avoidance thus seem to underlie natural gaze behavior and enhanced memory for threat in anxiety. Accordingly, we propose the term hypercoding-avoidance, which describes how anxious individuals habitually scan their immediate social environment for threat, remember its location, and subsequently avoid it. Moreover, this is the first experimental evidence showing that submissive gaze aversion is distinct from anxious gaze avoidance.