Anxiety and sensitivity to gaze direction in emotionally expressive faces.
Fox E., Mathews A., Calder AJ., Yiend J.
This study investigated the role of neutral, happy, fearful, and angry facial expressions in enhancing orienting to the direction of eye gaze. Photographs of faces with either direct or averted gaze were presented. A target letter (T or L) appeared unpredictably to the left or the right of the face, either 300 ms or 700 ms after gaze direction changed. Response times were faster in congruent conditions (i.e., when the eyes gazed toward the target) relative to incongruent conditions (when the eyes gazed away from the target letter). Facial expression did influence reaction times, but these effects were qualified by individual differences in self-reported anxiety. High trait-anxious participants showed an enhanced orienting to the eye gaze of faces with fearful expressions relative to all other expressions. In contrast, when the eyes stared straight ahead, trait anxiety was associated with slower responding when the facial expressions depicted anger. Thus, in anxiety-prone people attention is more likely to be held by an expression of anger, whereas attention is guided more potently by fearful facial expressions.