Early cortical processing of natural and artificial emotional faces differs between lower and higher socially anxious persons

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Emotional facial expressions provide critical information for social interactions. Above all, angry faces are assumed to reflect potential social threat. We investigated event-related potentials (ERPs) triggered by natural and artificial faces expressing fear, anger, happiness or no emotion in participants with low and high levels of social anxiety. Overall, artificial faces elicited stronger P100 and N170 responses than natural faces. Additionally, the N170 component was larger for emotional compared to neutral facial expressions. Social anxiety was associated with an enhanced emotional modulation of the early posterior negativity (EPN) in response to fearful and angry facial expressions. Additionally, while the late positive potential (LPP) was larger for emotional than for neutral faces in low socially anxious participants, LPPs of higher socially anxious participants did not differ. LPPs might therefore be enhanced in higher socially anxious participants for both emotional and neutral faces. Furthermore, the modulations of the EPN and LPP were comparable between natural and artificial faces. These results indicate that social anxiety influences early perceptual processing of faces and that artificial faces are suitable for psychophysiological emotion research.

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