Culture and Brain

, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 151–170 | Cite as

Are you mad at me? Social anxiety and early visual processing of anger and gaze among Asian American biculturals

  • Goeun ParkEmail author
  • Richard S. Lewis
  • Yuxi C. Wang
  • Hyeji J. Cho
  • Sharon G. Goto
Original Research Article


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.


Eye gaze Eye expression Emotion Event-related potentials P1 Asian Americans Bicultural Social cognition 


  1. Adams, R. B., Jr., Gordon, H. L., Baird, A. A., Ambady, N., & Kleck, R. E. (2003). Effects of gaze on amygdala sensitivity to anger and fear faces. Science, 300(5625), 1536.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Adams, R. B., Jr., & Kleck, R. E. (2003). Perceived gaze direction and the processing of facial displays of emotion. Psychological Science, 14(6), 644–647.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Adams, R. B., Jr., & Kleck, R. E. (2005). Effects of direct and averted gaze on the perception of facially communicated emotion. Emotion, 5(1), 3–11.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Adler, N., & Stewart, J. (2007). The MacArthur scale of subjective social status. MacArthur Research Network on SES & Health. Retrieved from
  5. Akechi, H., Senju, A., Uibo, H., Kikuchi, Y., Hasegawa, T., & Hietanen, J. K. (2013). Attention to eye contact in the West and East: Autonomic responses and evaluative ratings. PLoS ONE, 8(3), e59312.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  6. Argyle, M., & Cook, M. (1976). Gaze and mutual gaze. Oxford: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Baltazar, M., Hazem, N., Vilarem, E., Beaucousin, V., Picq, J. L., & Conty, L. (2014). Eye contact elicits bodily self-awareness in human adults. Cognition, 133(1), 120–127.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., & Jolliffe, A. T. (1997). Is there a “language of the eyes”? Evidence from normal adults, and adults with autism or Asperger syndrome. Visual Cognition, 4(3), 311–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Beaupré, M. G., & Hess, U. (2006). An ingroup advantage for confidence in emotion recognition judgments: The moderating effect of familiarity with the expressions of outgroup members. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32(1), 16–26.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Berchio, C., Rihs, T. A., Piguet, C., Dayer, A. G., Aubry, J. M., & Michel, C. M. (2016). Early averted gaze processing in the right Fusiform Gyrus: An EEG source imaging study. Biological Psychology, 119, 156–170.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Bindemann, M., Mike Burton, A., & Langton, S. R. (2008). How do eye gaze and facial expression interact? Visual Cognition, 16(6), 708–733.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Blais, C., Jack, R. E., Scheepers, C., Fiset, D., & Caldara, R. (2008). Culture shapes how we look at faces. PLoS ONE, 3(8), e3022.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  13. Blais, C., Roy, C., Fiset, D., Arguin, M., & Gosselin, F. (2012). The eyes are not the window to basic emotions. Neuropsychologia, 50(12), 2830–2838.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Caldara, R. (2017). Culture reveals a flexible system for face processing. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26(3), 249–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Calder, A. J., & Young, A. W. (2005). Understanding the recognition of facial identity and facial expression. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 6(8), 641–651.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Carretié, L., Hinojosa, J. A., Martín-Loeches, M., Mercado, F., & Tapia, M. (2004). Automatic attention to emotional stimuli: Neural correlates. Human Brain Mapping, 22(4), 290–299.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Chang, S. C. (1997). Social anxiety (phobia) and East Asian culture. Depression and Anxiety, 5(3), 115–120.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Chen, T., Peltola, M. J., Ranta, L. J., & Hietanen, J. K. (2016). Affective priming by eye gaze stimuli: Behavioral and electrophysiological evidence. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10, 619.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  19. Cheung, R. Y., & Park, I. J. (2010). Anger suppression, interdependent self-construal, and depression among Asian American and European American college students. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 16(4), 517.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Conty, L., Dezecache, G., Hugueville, L., & Grèzes, J. (2012). Early binding of gaze, gesture, and emotion: Neural time course and correlates. Journal of Neuroscience, 32(13), 4531–4539.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Delplanque, S., Lavoie, M. E., Hot, P., Silvert, L., & Sequeira, H. (2004). Modulation of cognitive processing by emotional valence studied through event-related potentials in humans. Neuroscience Letters, 356(1), 1–4.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. V. (1971). Constants across cultures in the face and emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 17(2), 124–129.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Elfenbein, H. A., & Ambady, N. (2002). On the universality and cultural specificity of emotion recognition: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 128(2), 203–235.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Eysenck, M. W., Derakshan, N., Santos, R., & Calvo, M. G. (2007). Anxiety and cognitive performance: Attentional control theory. Emotion, 7(2), 336.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Fang, K., Friedlander, M., & Pieterse, A. L. (2016). Contributions of acculturation, enculturation, discrimination, and personality traits to social anxiety among Chinese immigrants: A context-specific assessment. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 22(1), 58–68.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Fichtenholtz, H. M., Hopfinger, J. B., Graham, R., Detwiler, J. M., & LaBar, K. S. (2009). Event-related potentials reveal temporal staging of dynamic facial expression and gaze shift effects on attentional orienting. Social Neuroscience, 4(4), 317–331.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  27. Fong, M. C., Goto, S. G., Moore, C., Zhao, T., Schudson, Z., & Lewis, R. S. (2014). Switching between Mii and Wii: The effects of cultural priming on the social affective N400. Culture and Brain, 2(1), 52–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Fox, E., Derakshan, N., & Shoker, L. (2008). Trait anxiety modulates the electrophysiological indices of rapid spatial orienting towards angry faces. NeuroReport, 19(3), 259–263.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Frischen, A., Bayliss, A. P., & Tipper, S. P. (2007). Gaze cueing of attention: Visual attention, social cognition, and individual differences. Psychological Bulletin, 133(4), 694–724.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  30. Goldin, P. R., Manber, T., Hakimi, S., Canli, T., & Gross, J. J. (2009). Neural bases of social anxiety disorder: Emotional reactivity and cognitive regulation during social and physical threat. Archives of General Psychiatry, 66(2), 170–180.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  31. Goto, S. G., Yee, A., Lowenberg, K., & Lewis, R. S. (2013). Cultural differences in sensitivity to social context: Detecting affective incongruity using the N400. Social Neuroscience, 8(1), 63–74.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Graham, R., & LaBar, K. S. (2012). Neurocognitive mechanisms of gaze-expression interactions in face processing and social attention. Neuropsychologia, 50(5), 553–566.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  33. Hagemann, J., Straube, T., & Schulz, C. (2016). Too bad: Bias for angry faces in social anxiety interferes with identity processing. Neuropsychologia, 84, 136–149.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Hajcak, G., Weinberg, A., MacNamara, A., & Foti, D. (2011). ERPs and the study of emotion. In S. J. Luck & E. Kappenman (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of event-related potential components (pp. 441–474). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Hamilton, A. F. C. (2016). Gazing at me: The importance of social meaning in understanding direct-gaze cues. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 371(1686), 20150080.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hayes, A. F. (2012). PROCESS: A versatile computational tool for observed variable mediation, moderation, and conditional process modeling [White paper]. Retrieved from
  37. Heinze, H. J., Mangun, G. R., Burchert, W., Hinrichs, H., Scholz, M., Münte, T. F., … & Gazzaniga, M. S. (1994). Combined spatial and temporal imaging of brain activity during visual selective attention in humans. Nature, 372(6506), 543–546.Google Scholar
  38. Hezel, D. M., & McNally, R. J. (2014). Theory of mind impairments in social anxiety disorder. Behavior Therapy, 45(4), 530–540.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Hinojosa, J. A., Mercado, F., & Carretié, L. (2015). N170 sensitivity to facial expression: A meta-analysis. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 55, 498–509.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Ho, L. Y., & Lau, A. S. (2011). Do self-report measures of social anxiety reflect cultural bias or real difficulties for Asian American college students? Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 17(1), 52.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Hofstede, G. (2003). Culture’s consequences: International differences in work-related values. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  42. Hong, Y., Morris, M. W., Chiu, C. Y., & Benet-Martínez, V. (2000). Multicultural minds: A dynamic constructivist approach to culture and cognition. American Psychologist, 55(7), 709–720.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Hong, J. J., & Woody, S. R. (2007). Cultural mediators of self-reported social anxiety. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45(8), 1779–1789.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Hsu, L., & Alden, L. (2007). Social anxiety in Chinese- and European-heritage students: The effect of assessment format and judgments of impairment. Behavior Therapy, 38, 120–131.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Itier, R. J., Alain, C., Sedore, K., & McIntosh, A. R. (2007). Early face processing specificity: It’s in the eyes! Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19(11), 1815–1826.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Itier, R. J., & Batty, M. (2009). Neural bases of eye and gaze processing: The core of social cognition. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 33(6), 843–863.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  47. Jack, R. E., Blais, C., Scheepers, C., Schyns, P. G., & Caldara, R. (2009). Cultural confusions show that facial expressions are not universal. Current Biology, 19(18), 1543–1548.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Jack, R. E., Caldara, R., & Schyns, P. G. (2012). Internal representations reveal cultural diversity in expectations of facial expressions of emotion. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 141(1), 19–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Kitayama, S., Mesquita, B., & Karasawa, M. (2006). Cultural affordances and emotional experience: Socially engaging and disengaging emotions in Japan and the United states. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 890–903.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Kleinke, C. L. (1986). Gaze and eye contact: A research review. Psychological Bulletin, 100(1), 78–100.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. La Greca, A. M., & Lopez, N. (1998). Social anxiety among adolescents: Linkages with peer relations and friendships. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 26(2), 83–94.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Lau, A. S., Fung, J., Wang, S. W., & Kang, S. M. (2009). Explaining elevated social anxiety among Asian Americans: Emotional attunement and a cultural double bind. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 15(1), 77–85.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Lee, D. H., & Anderson, A. K. (2017). Reading what the mind thinks from how the eye sees. Psychological Science, 28(4), 494–503.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Li, X., Li, X., & Luo, Y. J. (2005). Selective effect of negative emotion on spatial and verbal working memory: An ERP study. In International Conference on Neural Networks and Brain, 2005 (ICNN&B’05) (Vol. 2, pp. 1284–1289). IEEE.Google Scholar
  55. Li, D., Yu, F., Ye, R., Chen, X., Xie, X., Zhu, C., et al. (2017). How does gaze direction affect facial processing in social anxiety?—An erp study. Psychiatry Research, 251, 155–161. Scholar
  56. Lin, Z., Lin, Y., & Han, S. (2008). Self-construal priming modulates visual activity underlying global/local perception. Biological Psychology, 77(1), 93–97.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. Lindquist, K. A., Wager, T. D., Kober, H., Bliss-Moreau, E., & Barrett, L. F. (2012). The brain basis of emotion: A meta-analytic review. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 35, 121–143.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. Mangun, G. R., Hopfinger, J. B., Kussmaul, C. L., Fletcher, E. M., & Heinze, H. J. (1997). Covariations in ERP and PET measures of spatial selective attention in human extrastriate visual cortex. Human Brain Mapping, 5(4), 273–279.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98(2), 224–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Matsumoto, D. (1989). Cultural influences on the perception of emotion. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 20, 92–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Matsumoto, D., & Ekman, P. (1988). Japanese and Caucasian facial expressions of emotion (JACFEE) and Japanese and Caucasian neutral faces (JACNeuF) [slides]. San Francisco: Intercultural and Emotion Research Laboratory, Department of Psychology, San Francisco State University.Google Scholar
  62. Mauss, I. B., Butler, E. A., Roberts, N. A., & Chu, A. (2010). Emotion control values and responding to an anger provocation in Asian-American and European-American individuals. Cognition and Emotion, 24, 1026–1043.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  63. McCarthy, A., Lee, K., Itakura, S., & Muir, D. W. (2006). Cultural display rules drive eye gaze during thinking. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 37(6), 717–722.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  64. Mogg, K., Philippot, P., & Bradley, B. P. (2004). Selective attention to angry faces in clinical social phobia. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 113(1), 160–165.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Mueller, E. M., Hofmann, S. G., Santesso, D. L., Meuret, A. E., Bitran, S., & Pizzagalli, D. A. (2009). Electrophysiological evidence of attentional biases in social anxiety disorder. Psychological Medicine, 39(7), 1141–1152.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  66. Nomi, J. S., Frances, C., Nguyen, M. T., Bastidas, S., & Troup, L. J. (2013). Interaction of threat expressions and eye gaze: An event-related potential study. NeuroReport, 24(14), 813–817.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  67. Norasakkunkit, V., & Kalick, S. M. (2002). Culture, ethnicity, and emotional distress measures: The role of self-construal and self- enhancement. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 33, 56–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Okazaki, S. (1997). Sources of ethnic differences between Asian American and White American college students on measures of depression and social anxiety. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 106(1), 52–60.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  69. Okazaki, S. (2002). Self-other agreement on affective distress scales in Asian Americans and White Americans. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 49, 428–437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Oyserman, D., Coon, H. M., & Kemmelmeier, M. (2002). Rethinking individualism and collectivism: Evaluation of theoretical assumptions and meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 128(1), 3–72.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  71. Pessoa, L. (2008). On the relationship between emotion and cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9, 148–158.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  72. Peterson, M. F., Lin, J., Zaun, I., & Kanwisher, N. (2016). Individual differences in face-looking behavior generalize from the lab to the world. Journal of vision, 16(7), 12.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  73. Pönkänen, L. M., Alhoniemi, A., Leppänen, J. M., & Hietanen, J. K. (2010). Does it make a difference if I have an eye contact with you or with your picture? An ERP study. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 6(4), 486–494.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  74. Psychology Software Tools, Inc. [E-Prime 2.0]. (2012).Google Scholar
  75. Qualtrics, LLC [Qualtrics December 2017]. (2017).Google Scholar
  76. Rossignol, M., Campanella, S., Bissot, C., & Philippot, P. (2013). Fear of negative evaluation and attentional bias for facial expressions: An event-related study. Brain and Cognition, 82(3), 344–352.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  77. Russell, M. J., Masuda, T., Hioki, K., & Singhal, A. (2015). Culture and social judgments: The importance of culture in Japanese and European Canadians’ N400 and LPC processing of face lineup emotion judgments. Culture and Brain, 3(2), 131–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Schimmack, U., Oishi, S., & Diener, E. (2002). Cultural influences on the relation between pleasant emotions and unpleasant emotions: Asian dialectic philosophies or individualism-collectivism? Cognition and Emotion, 16, 705–719.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Schmitz, J., Scheel, C. N., Rigon, A., Gross, J. J., & Blechert, J. (2012). You don’t like me, do you? Enhanced ERP responses to averted eye gaze in social anxiety. Biological Psychology, 91(2), 263–269.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  80. Schreier, S. S., Heinrichs, N., Alden, L., Rapee, R. M., Hofmann, S. G., Chen, J., … & Bögels, S. (2010). Social anxiety and social norms in individualistic and collectivistic countries. Depression and Anxiety, 27(12), 1128–1134.Google Scholar
  81. Senju, A., & Johnson, M. H. (2009). The eye contact effect: Mechanisms and development. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(3), 127–134.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  82. Sims, T., Tsai, J. L., Jiang, D., Wnag, I., Fung, H. H., & Zhang, X. (2015). Wanting to maximize the positive and minimize the negative: Implications for mixed affective experience in American and Chinese contexts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 109, 292–315.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  83. Singelis, T. M. (1994). The measurement of independent and interdependent self-construals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20(5), 580–591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Staugaard, S. R. (2010). Threatening faces and social anxiety: A literature review. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(6), 669–690.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  85. Straube, T., Langohr, B., Schmidt, S., Mentzel, H. J., & Miltner, W. H. R. (2010). Increased amygdala activation to averted versus direct gaze in humans is independent of valence of facial expression. Neuroimage, 49, 2680–2686.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  86. Strick, M., Holland, R. W., & van Knippenberg, A. (2008). Seductive eyes: Attractiveness and direct gaze increase desire for associated objects. Cognition, 106(3), 1487–1496.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  87. Sui, J., Hong, Y. Y., Hong Liu, C., Humphreys, G. W., & Han, S. (2012). Dynamic cultural modulation of neural responses to one’s own and friend’s faces. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 8(3), 326–332.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  88. Tottenham, N., Tanaka, J. W., Leon, A. C., McCarry, T., Nurse, M., Hare, T. A., … & Nelson, C. (2009). The NimStim set of facial expressions: Judgments from untrained research participants. Psychiatry Research, 168(3), 242–249.Google Scholar
  89. Triandis, H. C. (1989). The self and social behavior in differing cultural contexts. Psychological Review, 96(3), 506–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Tsai, J. L. (2007). Ideal affect: Cultural causes and behavioral consequences. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2(3), 242–259.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  91. Tsuji, Y., & Shimada, S. (2017). Socially anxious tendencies affect neural processing of gaze perception. Brain and Cognition, 118, 63–70.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  92. Varnum, M. E., Grossmann, I., Kitayama, S., & Nisbett, R. E. (2010). The origin of cultural differences in cognition: The social orientation hypothesis. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19(1), 9–13.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  93. Whalen, P. J. (2007). The uncertainty of it all. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11, 499–500.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  94. Wu, S., & Keysar, B. (2007). The effect of culture on perspective taking. Psychological Science, 18(7), 600–606.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  95. Ziaei, M., Ebner, N. C., & Burianová, H. (2017). Functional brain networks involved in gaze and emotional processing. European Journal of Neuroscience, 45(2), 312–320.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyPomona CollegeClaremontUSA
  2. 2.Department of NeurosciencePomona CollegeClaremontUSA
  3. 3.Intercollegiate Department of Asian American StudiesClaremontUSA

Personalised recommendations