In everyday life, information from multiple senses is integrated for a holistic understanding of emotion. Despite evidence of atypical multisensory perception in populations with socio-emotional difficulties (e.g., autistic individuals), little research to date has examined how anxiety impacts on multisensory emotion perception. Here we examined whether the level of trait anxiety in a sample of 56 healthy adults affected audiovisual processing of emotion for three types of stimuli: dynamic faces and voices, body motion and dialogues of two interacting agents, and circles and tones. Participants judged emotion from four types of displays – audio-only, visual-only, audiovisual congruent (e.g., angry face and angry voice) and audiovisual incongruent (e.g., angry face and happy voice) – as happy or angry, as quickly as possible. In one task, participants based their emotional judgements on information in one modality while ignoring information in the other, and in a second task they based their judgements on their overall impressions of the stimuli. The results showed that the higher trait anxiety group prioritized the processing of angry cues when combining faces and voices that portrayed conflicting emotions. Individuals in this group were also more likely to benefit from combining congruent face and voice cues when recognizing anger. The multisensory effects of anxiety were found to be independent of the effects of autistic traits. The observed effects of trait anxiety on multisensory processing of emotion may serve to maintain anxiety by increasing sensitivity to social-threat and thus contributing to interpersonal difficulties.
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