From face to hand: Attentional bias towards expressive hands in social anxiety.Biol Psychol. 2017 01; 122:42-50.BP
The eye-region conveys important emotional information that we spontaneously attend to. Socially submissive individuals avoid other's gaze which is regarded as avoidance of others' emotional face expressions. But this interpretation ignores the fact that there are other sources of emotional information besides the face. Here we investigate whether gaze-aversion is associated with increased attention to emotional signals from the hands. We used eye-tracking to compare eye-fixations of pre-selected high and low socially anxious students when labeling bodily expressions (Experiment 1) with (non)-matching facial expressions (Experiment 2) and passively viewed (Experiment 3). High compared to low socially anxious individuals attended more to hand-regions. Our findings demonstrate that socially anxious individuals do attend to emotions, albeit to different signals than the eyes and the face. Our findings call for a closer investigation of alternative viewing patterns explaining gaze-avoidance and underscore that other signals besides the eyes and face must be considered to reach conclusions about social anxiety.