Date of Award

5-10-2019

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Erin Tone

Second Advisor

Dr. Page Anderson

Third Advisor

Dr. Heather Kleider-Offutt

Abstract

Threatening faces draw our attention with particular speed, a phenomenon commonly documented using behavioral measures such as the facial dot probe task. However, other aspects of the face that such tasks often fail to take into account, such as characteristics that signal race, also may influence threat perception. If dot probe tasks are to continue to serve as key measures of threat bias in research, we must understand whether and how the facial contexts in which angry expressions appear influence people’s attention to those expressions. The current study examined the ways in which emotional expression and facial race signifiers interact to convey threat in individuals with varying levels of racial intergroup anxiety. I proposed that participant race would moderate the relationship between intergroup anxiety and attentional bias to White and Black stimulus faces. One hundred and sixteen participants (Black = 58; White = 58) completed a modified version of the facial dot probe task, as well as self-report measures encompassing intergroup anxiety and individual demographics. Results indicated that participant race did not significantly moderate the association between intergroup anxiety for Black or White threatening faces. However, key group differences in attentional biases for threat were evident. White participants, but not Black participants, displayed statistically significant biases toward Black threatening faces. Additionally, for White participants, but not Black participants, increases in intergroup anxiety were associated with increases in attentional bias for Black faces. These findings provide a first step toward understanding the influence that facial signals of race may have on attentional allocation for threat cues within the dot probe task. They also highlight the need for increased care when generalizing findings from dot probe studies to diverse populations. Suggestions for future research include investigating the potential contribution of implicit attitudes to attentional bias for outgroup threat and including gender as an intergroup variable.

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