Social anxiety changes the way we move—A social approach-avoidance task in a virtual reality CAVE system

Autoři: Bastian Lange aff001;  Paul Pauli aff001
Působiště autorů: Department of Psychology, Biological Psychology, Clinical Psychology, and Psychotherapy, University of Würzburg, Würzburg, Germany aff001;  Center of Mental Health, Medical Faculty, University of Würzburg, Germany aff002
Vyšlo v časopise: PLoS ONE 14(12)
Kategorie: Research Article


Investigating approach-avoidance behavior regarding affective stimuli is important in broadening the understanding of one of the most common psychiatric disorders, social anxiety disorder. Many studies in this field rely on approach-avoidance tasks, which mainly assess hand movements, or interpersonal distance measures, which return inconsistent results and lack ecological validity. Therefore, the present study introduces a virtual reality task, looking at avoidance parameters (movement time and speed, distance to social stimulus, gaze behavior) during whole-body movements. These complex movements represent the most ecologically valid form of approach and avoidance behavior. These are at the core of complex and natural social behavior. With this newly developed task, the present study examined whether high socially anxious individuals differ in avoidance behavior when bypassing another person, here virtual humans with neutral and angry facial expressions. Results showed that virtual bystanders displaying angry facial expressions were generally avoided by all participants. In addition, high socially anxious participants generally displayed enhanced avoidance behavior towards virtual people, but no specifically exaggerated avoidance behavior towards virtual people with a negative facial expression. The newly developed virtual reality task proved to be an ecological valid tool for research on complex approach-avoidance behavior in social situations. The first results revealed that whole body approach-avoidance behavior relative to passive bystanders is modulated by their emotional facial expressions and that social anxiety generally amplifies such avoidance.

Klíčová slova:

Analysis of variance – Behavior – Emotions – Face – Questionnaires – Social anxiety disorder – Virtual reality – Anxiolytics


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