Although cognitive theories suggest the interactive nature of information processing biases in contributing to social anxiety, most studies to date have investigated these biases in isolation. This study aimed at (a) testing the association between social anxiety and each of the threat-related cognitive biases: attention, interpretation, and memory bias; and (b) examining the relationship between these cognitive biases in facial perception. We recruited an unselected sample of 188 adult participants and measured their level of social anxiety and cognitive biases using faces displaying angry, disgusted, happy, and ambiguous versions of these expressions. All bias tasks were assessed with the same set of facial stimuli. Regression analyses showed that social anxiety symptoms significantly predicted attention avoidance and poorer sensitivity in recognizing threatening faces. Social anxiety was, however, unrelated to interpretation bias in our sample. Results of path analysis suggested that attention bias influenced memory bias indirectly through interpretation bias for angry but not disgusted faces. Our findings suggest that, regardless of social anxiety level, when individuals selectively oriented to faces displaying anger, the faces were interpreted to be more negative. This, in turn, predicted better memory for the angry faces. The results provided further empirical support for the combined cognitive bias hypothesis.
- attention bias
- combined cognitive bias hypothesis
- interpretation bias
- memory bias
- social anxiety