Are you mad at me? Social anxiety and early visual processing of anger and gaze among Asian American biculturals
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Eyes are not universally attended to across different populations. Directly looking at the eyes of other people is a socially constrained behavior in many non-Western countries. Furthermore, perceiving emotions and faces are culturally regulated processes (Elfenbein and Ambady, in Psychol Bull 128(2):203–235, 2002; Caldara, in Curr Direct Psychol Sci 26(3):249–255, 2017). This study aims to bridge the gap between the cross-cultural and social cognition literature on gaze and threatening eye perception by understanding the relations between the early visual event-related potentials (ERPs) and social anxiety among Asian American biculturals. EEG was recorded from Asian American undergraduates while they watched isolated eye stimuli under four conditions: Angry Expression with an Averted Gaze, Angry Expression with a Direct Gaze, Neutral Expression with an Averted Gaze, and Neutral Expression with a Direct Gaze. The P1 ERP was sensitive to the combined effect of eye gaze and expression such that the largest amplitudes were recorded during the Angry-Averted eye condition. In contrast, no differences among the four conditions were found for the N170. Furthermore, we found an indirect effect between interdependent self-construal and social anxiety mediated by the P1. Interdependent self-construal was associated with smaller P1 s, which were related to greater social anxiety. The indirect effect supports the Asian American double bind (Lau et al., in Cult Divers Ethnic Minor Psychol 15(1), 77–85, 2009) and identifies a neural mechanism of lessened attention to eyes that may mediate increased social unease. These results emphasize the important role of culture in emotion perception via the eyes.
KeywordsEye gaze Eye expression Emotion Event-related potentials P1 Asian Americans Bicultural Social cognition
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