Anxiety meets fear in perception of dynamic expressive gaze

Emotion. 2006 Feb;6(1):94-102. doi: 10.1037/1528-3542.6.1.94.


This study investigated in 2 experiments whether reflexive cuing of attention that occurs after perception of a gaze cue is greater for fearful than for happy faces in normal participants, as hypothesized from a social neuroscience perspective. To increase neuroecological validity, dynamic stimulus presentation was used to display faces that simultaneously morphed from a neutral expression into a happy or fearful one and shifted eye gaze from the center to the periphery. Shifts of attention resulting from a natural fearful gaze were expected to be related to participants' anxiety traits, in agreement with the often found increased selective attention to threat in anxious participants. Both hypotheses were confirmed: Fearful faces induced stronger gaze cuing than happy faces, and the strength of this cuing effect was correlated to participants' anxiety levels. These results suggest a neural network, which integrates the processing of gaze, expression, and emotional states to adaptively prime vigilance under threatening circumstances.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Arousal
  • Attention
  • Cues
  • Emotions
  • Facial Expression*
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Netherlands
  • Reaction Time
  • Social Perception*