University of Central Florida Undergraduate Research Journal - Perception of Facial Expressions in Social Anxiety and Gaze Anxiety
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This study explores the relationship between gaze anxiety and the perception of facial expressions. The literature suggests that individuals experiencing Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) might have a fear of making direct eye contact, and that these individuals also demonstrate a hypervigilance towards the eye region. Some have suggested that this increased anxiety concerning eye contact might be related to the tendency of socially anxious individuals to mislabel emotion in the faces of onlookers. An improved understanding of the cognitive biases associated with SAD could lead to more efficient intervention and assessment methods. In the present study, I used the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale-21 (DASS-21) and the Social Phobia and Anxiety Inventory-23 (SPAI-23) to measure social anxiety, depression, and overall distress. These forms allowed me to separate participants who reported high socially anxious and depressive traits from those in the normal range. I then compared anxiety concerning mutual eye contact as measured by the Gaze Anxiety Rating Scale (GARS) to performance on a facial recognition task. Performance was measured as recognition accuracy and average perceived intensity of onlooker expression on a scale of 1-5. A linear regression analysis revealed that higher GARS scores were related to higher perceived intensity of emotion by socially anxious individuals. An exploratory correlation analysis also revealed that higher gaze anxiety was related to lower accuracy at identifying neutral emotions and higher accuracy at identifying angry emotions. Although previous research has demonstrated these same biases by socially anxious individuals, gaze anxiety has not been explored extensively. Future research should investigate gaze anxiety's role as a moderating variable.

KEYWORDS: gaze anxiety, social anxiety, perception, gaze avoidance, gaze fear, GARS, face perception, mood, emotion, bias

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