Social anxiety is the intense fear of negative evaluation by others, and it emerges uniquely from a social situation. Given its social origin, we asked whether an anxiety-inducing social situation could enhance the processing of faces linked to the situational threat. While past research has focused on how individual differences in social anxiety relate to face processing, we tested the effect of manipulated social anxiety in the context of anxiety about appearing racially prejudiced in front of a peer. Visual processing of faces was indexed by the N170 component of the event-related potential. Participants viewed faces of Black and White males, along with nonfaces, either in private or while being monitored by the experimenter for signs of prejudice in a 'public' condition. Results revealed a difference in the N170 response to Black and Whites faces that emerged only in the public condition and only among participants high in dispositional social anxiety. These results provide new evidence that anxiety arising from the social situation modulates the earliest stages of face processing in a way that is specific to a social threat, and they shed new light on how anxiety effects on perception may contribute to the regulation of intergroup responses.
- Event-related potential (ERP)
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience