Interpersonal responses to facial expressions of disgust, anger, and happiness in individuals with varying levels of social anxiety

Marije Aan Het Rot*, Christina Friederici, Sandra C Krause, Peter J de Jong

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Facial expression recognition has been studied extensively, including in relation to social anxiety. Nonetheless, a limited number of studies examined recognition of disgust expressions. Results suggest that disgust is perceived as more threatening than anger, and thus may invite more extreme responses. However, few studies have examined responses to facial expressions. These studies have focused on approach-avoidance responses. Our primary aim was to examine to what extent anger and disgust expressions might invite interpersonal responses in terms of quarrelsomeness-agreeableness and dominance-submissiveness. As social anxiety has been previously associated with a heightened sensitivity to anger and disgust expressions, as well as with alterations in quarrelsomeness-agreeableness and dominance-submissiveness, our secondary aim was to examine whether social anxiety would moderate these responses.

METHODS: Participants were 55 women and 43 men who completed social anxiety measures, including the Brief Fear of Negative Evaluation scale, and two tasks that involved "targets" expressing anger, disgust, or happiness at 0%, 50%, or 100%. Participants first indicated how quarrelsome or agreeable and how dominant or submissive they would be towards each target, and then how much they would avoid or approach each target.

RESULTS: While 100% disgust and anger expressions invited similar levels of quarrelsomeness and avoidance, 50% disgust invited more quarrelsomeness and stronger avoidance than 50% anger. While these patterns were not meaningfully moderated by social anxiety, individuals with higher BFNE scores showed a relatively strong approach of happy faces.

LIMITATIONS: Actual interpersonal behaviour in response to facial expressions was not assessed.

CONCLUSIONS: Findings support the relevance of disgust as an interpersonal signal and suggest that, especially at mild intensity, disgust may have a stronger impact than anger on people's quarrelsomeness and avoidance responses. Findings provided no support for the view that people with social anxiety would be particularly responsive to disgust (or anger) expressions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0263990
Number of pages18
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 7-Apr-2022

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