Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Developmental and Brain Sciences

First Advisor

Vivan Ciaramitaro

Second Advisor

Erik Blaser

Third Advisor

Susan Zup, Alice Carter, Amaud Leleu


Emotional processing and face perception are critical aspects of social functioning, making them pertinent domains to explore not only in the typically developing populations, but also in neurodivergent populations, such as in the context of social anxiety disorder. By employing various experimental paradigms, including psychophysical and neuroimaging methods, the research presented in this dissertation aims to elucidate how emotional processes are influenced by social anxiety, state affect and face-sex, and how they may change across the lifespan. In Chapter 2, I delve into the influence of social anxiety on emotional processing and the moderating role of state affect. With the use of psychophysical techniques, such as the point of subjective equality (PSE) metric, this chapter reveals stronger negative biases in individuals high in social anxiety, particularly when negative affect is also strong. Additionally, state affect and social anxiety interact in such a way that social anxiety alone is not sufficient to fully explain perceptual biases. In Chapter 3, I extend the investigation of biases in emotional perception as a function of social anxiety, by exploring the interaction between social anxiety and face-sex. Contrary to expectations, individuals high in social anxiety exhibit increased biases in emotional processing regardless of the sex of the emotional face, challenging assumptions of sex-specific responses, such that high socially anxious individuals would perceive male faces more negatively than female faces compared to individuals with low levels of social anxiety. This finding might suggest that the absence of an interaction between social anxiety and face-sex is the indication of a more complex and nuanced relationship between the two and could be that other individual differences might be moderating this effect. In Chapter 4, I broaden the scope to examine age-related changes in the perception of emotions in male and female faces over the course of the lifespan, considering 6- to 64-year-olds. Findings in previous adult studies show evidence for the bias to perceive male faces as angry and female faces as happy, however the developmental perspective of such biases is lacking. By investigating perceptual biases across different age groups, the chapter provides insights into the developmental trajectory of emotional face perception. Our findings suggest that overall male faces are perceived more negatively than female faces, while children as young as 6 years show a strong bias to perceive male faces as angry, as bias that appears to decline with age, indicating the dynamic nature of emotional processing across the lifespan. In Chapter 5, I introduce the use of electroencephalography (EEG), using fast periodic visual stimulation (FPVS), to better understand the neural markers of the interplay between face-sex and emotion in faces. The goal was to isolate a neural response to angry-male and happy-female faces. This novel approach aims to provide insights into the neural mechanisms underlying the perception of emotion in faces and shed light on the neural correlates of the interaction between face-sex and emotion. Together, the chapters of this dissertation contribute to a deeper understanding of the complex interplay between emotional processing, the role of social anxiety, state affect, and face-sex, while also considering age-related changes, and neural correlates. By elucidating the underlying mechanisms and developmental trajectories, this dissertation offers insights into potential avenues for intervention in atypical populations, such as in individuals with social anxiety, and highlights the importance of considering individual differences in emotional processing across different contexts.


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