Threatening faces and social anxiety: a literature review

Clin Psychol Rev. 2010 Aug;30(6):669-90. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2010.05.001. Epub 2010 May 21.


A threatening facial expression is a potent social sign of hostility or dominance. During the past 20 years, photographs of threatening faces have been increasingly included as stimuli in studies with socially anxious participants, based on the hypothesis that a threatening face is especially salient to people with fears of social interaction or negative evaluation. The purpose of this literature review is to systematically evaluate the accumulated research and suggest possible avenues for further research. The main conclusion is that photographs of threatening faces engage a broad range of perceptual processes in socially anxious participants, particularly when exposure times are very short.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Attention
  • Facial Expression*
  • Fear
  • Hostility*
  • Humans
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology*
  • Social Perception*