High Trait Anxiety Enhances Optimal Integration of Auditory and Visual Threat Cues

Naomi Heffer, Molly Gradidge, Anke Karl, Chris Ashwin, Karin Petrini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background

Emotion perception is essential to human interaction and relies on effective integration of emotional cues across sensory modalities. Despite initial evidence for anxiety-related biases in multisensory processing of emotional information, there is no research to date that directly addresses whether the mechanism of multisensory integration is altered by anxiety. Here, we compared audiovisual integration of emotional cues between individuals with low vs. high trait anxiety.
Methods

Participants were 62 young adults who were assessed on their ability to quickly and accurately identify happy, angry and sad emotions from dynamic visual-only, audio-only and audiovisual face and voice displays.
Results

The results revealed that individuals in the high anxiety group were more likely to integrate angry faces and voices in a statistically optimal fashion, as predicted by the Maximum Likelihood Estimation model, compared to low anxiety individuals. This means that high anxiety individuals achieved higher precision in correctly recognising anger from angry audiovisual stimuli compared to angry face or voice-only stimuli, and compared to low anxiety individuals.
Limitations

We tested a higher proportion of females, and although this does reflect the higher prevalence of clinical anxiety among females in the general population, potential sex differences in multisensory mechanisms due to anxiety should be examined in future studies.
Conclusions

Individuals with high trait anxiety have multisensory mechanisms that are especially fine-tuned for processing threat-related emotions. This bias may exhaust capacity for processing of other emotional stimuli and lead to overly negative evaluations of social interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101693
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Volume74
Early online date15 Sep 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Sep 2021

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