College of Sciences
Virginia Consortium Program in Clinical Psychology
Cognitive theories suggest that attentional biases may contribute to both social anxiety and depression, such that attention may be biased to focus on or away from certain information (e.g., rejecting or sad images; Clark & McManus, 2002; Lemoult & Gotlib, 2019). Although research is mixed, recent studies using a neural measure called the N2pc (an event-related potential) has indicated attentional biases in social anxiety. However, little N2pc research has examined depression or co-occurring depression and social anxiety.
The current study used electroencephalography to measure the N2pc during a dot-probe task in which images of faces with emotional or neutral expressions competed for attention. Undergraduates (N = 102) completed the task and self-report measures of social anxiety and depression. Hierarchical linear regressions examined the hypotheses that social anxiety would be associated with attentional biases toward both angry and disgust faces and that depression would be associated with biases away from happy faces and toward sad faces.
Social anxiety was associated with a more negative N2pc for (i.e. greater bias toward) happy faces (β = -.32, p < .01) when holding depression constant. Depression was only marginally associated with bias toward sad faces (β = -.20, p = .09), given average social anxiety, and the interaction of depression and social anxiety marginally predicted less bias toward sad faces (β = .21, p = .08).
The social anxiety bias toward happy faces supports the fear of positive evaluation theory (Weeks et al., 2008). Individuals with social anxiety may rapidly attend to positive evaluation because it signals being pulled further into an anxious situation. The depression bias toward sad faces was marginal but provides some support for the cognitive perspective that attentional vigilance for depressive content influences negative thoughts and mood. This research informs interventions such as attentional bias modification and cognitive-behavioral therapy.
attentional bias, depression, social anxiety, N2pc
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Hager, Nathan M.; Judah, Matt R.; Milam, Alicia L.; Hamrick, Hannah C.; and Glenn, Catherine R., "Examining a Neural Measure of Attentional Bias to Emotional Faces in Social Anxiety and Depression" (2022). College of Sciences Posters. 8.