Avoidance of emotional facial expressions in social anxiety: The Approach-Avoidance Task

Kathrin Heuer, Mike Rinck, Eni S Becker
Behaviour Research and Therapy 2007, 45 (12): 2990-3001
The Approach-Avoidance Task (AAT) was employed to indirectly investigate avoidance reactions to stimuli of potential social threat. Forty-three highly socially anxious individuals (HSAs) and 43 non-anxious controls (NACs) reacted to pictures of emotional facial expressions (angry, neutral, or smiling) or to control pictures (puzzles) by pulling a joystick towards themselves (approach) versus pushing it away from themselves (avoidance). HSAs showed stronger avoidance tendencies than NACs for smiling as well as angry faces, whereas no group differences were found for neutral faces and puzzles. In contrast, valence ratings of the emotional facial expressions did not differ between groups. A critical discrepancy between direct and indirect measures was observed for smiling faces: HSAs evaluated them positively, but reacted to them with avoidance.

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