Individual differences in the ability to recognise facial identity are associated with social anxiety

PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e28800. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0028800. Epub 2011 Dec 14.


Previous research has been concerned with the relationship between social anxiety and the recognition of face expression but the question of whether there is a relationship between social anxiety and the recognition of face identity has been neglected. Here, we report the first evidence that social anxiety is associated with recognition of face identity, across the population range of individual differences in recognition abilities. Results showed poorer face identity recognition (on the Cambridge Face Memory Test) was correlated with a small but significant increase in social anxiety (Social Interaction Anxiety Scale) but not general anxiety (State-Trait Anxiety Inventory). The correlation was also independent of general visual memory (Cambridge Car Memory Test) and IQ. Theoretically, the correlation could arise because correct identification of people, typically achieved via faces, is important for successful social interactions, extending evidence that individuals with clinical-level deficits in face identity recognition (prosopagnosia) often report social stress due to their inability to recognise others. Equally, the relationship could arise if social anxiety causes reduced exposure or attention to people's faces, and thus to poor development of face recognition mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Demography
  • Face
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Recognition, Psychology*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Social Behavior*
  • Task Performance and Analysis