Bublatzky F. DFG - Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft BU 3255/1-1: A face to be loved or feared? Emotional and social mediation of verbal threat learning. 01/2018-12/2019.
To beware of a particular person or situation, we do not necessarily need to have had negative experiences with them. Aversive anticipations, as triggered by social communication, have been shown to reliably activate physiological defense mechanisms. However, very little is known about how instructional learning modulates face and person perception. The overarching aim is to examine the mutual impact of verbal and facial information on threat and safety learning (acquisition and extinction). Three main questions are addressed: (1) How effective is facial information in cueing instructed threat or safety (e.g., face identity or facial expression)? (2) To what degree is face processing modulated by aversive anticipation during sustained contextual threat? This two-sided approach (phasic cue vs. sustained context) is adopted to account for processes involved in acute and sustained threat (i.e., fear and anxiety). (3) To what extent can social factors facilitate the extinction of threat associations? Here, pleasant facial expressions, pictures of significant others (e.g., romantic partner), and safety instructions are hypothesized to inhibit fear acquisition and/or to accelerate extinction learning. Attentional processes, psychophysiological responding, and behavioral measures are examined to link face perception and social learning. As aversive anticipations can be amazingly persistent – even when the aversive outcomes are never experienced – the implications for a range of anxiety disorders are evident.