Your face scares me: Effects of Perceptual load and Social Anxiety on processing of threatening and neutral faces.


Social Anxiety Disorder is among the most widely studied psychiatric conditions. However, the role of attentional and emotional processes in the maintenance of the condition is still not well-established. This study addressed the impact of individual differences in Social Anxiety, by examining the effects of perceptual load and stimulus valence when processing faces vs objects, here used as distractors, within a letter-search task. In addition to RT and accuracy on the letter search task, heart rate, and skin conductance during the task and par- ticipants’ self-report emotional evaluation were assessed to help interpret performance effects. Results suggest that distractor stimuli that are either threatening or faces impair per- formance of high SA participants. Results demonstrate a hypervigilance for threatening faces in SA but indicate that this happens primarily when cognitive resources are available, that is, under low perceptual load.