Training approach-avoidance of smiling faces affects emotional vulnerability in socially anxious individuals
- Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands
Previous research revealed an automatic behavioral bias in high socially anxious individuals (HSAs): although their explicit evaluations of smiling faces are positive, they show automatic avoidance of these faces. This is reflected by faster pushing than pulling of smiling faces in an Approach-Avoidance Task (AAT; Heuer et al., 2007). The current study addressed the causal role of this avoidance bias for social anxiety. To this end, we used the AAT to train HSAs, either to approach smiling faces or to avoid them. We examined whether such an AAT training could change HSAs' automatic avoidance tendencies, and if yes, whether AAT effects would generalize to a new approach task with new facial stimuli, and to mood and anxiety in a social threat situation (a video-recorded self-presentation). We found that HSAs trained to approach smiling faces did indeed approach female faces faster after the training than HSAs trained to avoid smiling faces. Moreover, approach-faces training reduced emotional vulnerability: it led to more positive mood and lower anxiety after the self-presentation than avoid-faces training. These results suggest that automatic approach-avoidance tendencies have a causal role in social anxiety, and that they can be modified by a simple computerized training. This may open new avenues in the therapy of social phobia.
Keywords: social anxiety, AAT training, face turn AAT, approach-avoidance modification
Citation: Rinck M, Telli S, Kampmann IL, Woud ML, Kerstholt M, te Velthuis S, Wittkowski M and Becker ES (2013) Training approach-avoidance of smiling faces affects emotional vulnerability in socially anxious individuals. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 7:481. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00481
Received: 05 April 2013; Accepted: 30 July 2013;
Published online: 20 August 2013.
Edited by: Pierre Philippot
, Catholic University of Louvain at Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
Copyright © 2013 Rinck, Telli, Kampmann, Woud, Kerstholt, te Velthuis, Wittkowski and Becker. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
*Correspondence: Mike Rinck, Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen, PO Box 9104, 6500 HE Nijmegen, Netherlands e-mail: email@example.com