Researchers from the University at Albany, SUNY, conducted a study to determine if anxiety causes a decrease in one’s ability to perceive rapid emotion in visual presentations or if this effect is a result of mood problems in general. Research has shown that depression and anxiety both contribute to challenges with emotional regulation, and some studies have suggested that attention is compromised in people suffering with these issues as well. The researchers enlisted 129 students from the University of Albany and evaluated them for depression using the Center of Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale and gauged their anxiety by categorizing them into high anxiety (HA) and low anxiety (LA) groups. They measured the positive and negative affect of each participant at the onset of the study.
For their study, led by Nicholas T. Van Dam, the team presented a series of facial images in rapid sequence to the participants using a technique called Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP),. The participants were asked to identify the emotion on the faces as they viewed them. The researchers found that the participants with anxiety had more difficulty perceiving the emotion in the time allotted. Additionally, the researchers found a direct link between the deficit of perception and the level of anxiety. They said, “Notably, HA individuals showed deficits (where LA individuals showed benefits) when the same emotion was presented twice.”
The team hopes that their results will help clinicians better understand and emotional intelligence issues in people with anxiety. “This finding is particularly important as it may suggest that rapid emotion processing alterations in anxiety and depression may be more related to anxiety than depression.” They added, “Examination of new ways of modifying these deficits (e.g., attentional modification training, meditation) in conjunction with more traditional treatment approaches for anxiety may also prove important to overcoming treatment-resistant anxiety.”
Van Dam, N. T., Earleywine, M., & Altarriba, J. (2011, August 22). Anxiety Attenuates Awareness of Emotional Faces During Rapid Serial Visual Presentation. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024648
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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