The characteristics of eye movements in patients with anxiety disorders during recognition of emotions in facial expressions



Most studies of visual attention in recognizing facial expressions of patients with anxiety disorders are aimed at assessing the differences with simultaneous presentation of “threatening” and “non-threatening” incentives. Thisstudyaimedtotestthehypothesisthatthepathologicalanxietyarethespecificcharacteristics of eye movements for recognition separately placed on facial expressions. Study sample consisted of 23 subjects: the control group (n = 14), mean age 26,5 ± 5,4 years, and the experimental group (n = 9) – patients with anxiety disorders, mean age 31 ± 3.64 years. Eye movements were recorded using eyrtracker RED-m (SMI). Subjects were sequentially exposed to 18 pictures from the FACS database: emotions related (anger, fear, disgust) and unrelated (surprise, joy, sadness) to threat. Deficit in the recognition of facial expressions was found in pathological anxiety group. Recognition accuracy of “fear” emotion in the experimental group was significantly higher than in the control group (p <0,01). Eyetracking results suggest that pathological anxiety affects the recognition of facial expressions, so that highly informative lower face less attention than normal, as the eye area and nose are observed longer compared with healthy subjects. We discuss the possible adaptive significance of the identified characteristics of eye movements. Footnote. The results of this study were presented at the Seventh International Conference on Cognitive Science (Svetlogorsk, June 2016).

General Information

Keywords: eye movements, eye tracking, patterns of eye movements, recognition of facial expressions of emotion in anxiety disorders

Journal rubric: Clinical Psychology

Article type: scientific article


For citation: Shalaginova I.G., Vakoliuk I.A. The characteristics of eye movements in patients with anxiety disorders during recognition of emotions in facial expressions. Eksperimental'naâ psihologiâ = Experimental Psychology (Russia), 2016. Vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 107–121. DOI: 10.17759/exppsy.2016090209. (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)


  1. Adolphs R. Fear, faces, and the human amygdala. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 2008, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 166–172.
  2. Barabanshchikov V.A., Anan’eva K.I., Kharitonov V.N. Organizatsiya dvizhenii glaz pri vospriyatii izobrazhenii litsa [The organization of eye movements in the perception of facial images]. Eksperimental’naya psikhologiya [Experimental Psychology (Russia)], 2009, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 31–60 (In Russian; abstract in English).
  3. Barabanshchikov V.A. Ekspressii litsa i ikh vospriyatie [The facial expressions and their perceptions]. Moscow, Institut psikhologii RAN Publ., 2012. 341 p. (In Russian).
  4. Beck A.T, Clark D.A. An information processing model of anxiety: Automatic and strategic processes. Behaviour Research And Therapy, 1997, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 49–58.
  5. Bell С., Bourke C., Colhoun H., Carter F., Frampton C., Porter R. The misclassification of facial expressions in generalised social phobia. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 2011, vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 278–283.
  6. Van den Bulk B., Meens P., van Lang N., de Voogd E., van der Wee N., Rombouts S. Amygdala activation during emotional face processing in adolescents with affective disorder s: the role of underlying depression and anxiety symptoms. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2014, vol. 8, pp. 1–13.
  7. Cangöz B. Examining the Visual Screening Patterns of Emotional Facial Expressions with Gender, Age and Lateralization. Journal of Eye Movement Research, 2013, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 1–15.
  8. Cooper R., Rowe A., Penton-Voak I. The role of trait anxiety in the recognition of emotional facial expressions. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 2008, vol. 22, no. 7, pp. 1120–1127.
  9. Demenescu L., Kortekaas R., Cremers H., Renken R., van Tol M., van der Wee N. Amygdala activation and its function al connectivity during perception of emotional faces in social phobia and panic disorder. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 2013, vol. 47, no. 8, pp. 1024–1031.
  10. Ekman P., Friesen W.V. Pictures of Facial Affect. Palo Alto California, Consult. Psychol. Press, 1976. 250 p.
  11. Garner M., Baldwin D., Bradley B., Mogg K. Impaired identification of fearful faces in Generalised Social Phobia.Journal of Affective Disorders, 2009, vol. 115, no. 3, pp. 460–465.
  12. Mandal M. Pandey R. Prasad A. Facial expressions of emotion and schizopfrenia: a review. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 2003, no. 24, pp. 399–412.
  13. McClure E.B., Pope K., Hoberman A.J., Pine D.S., Leibenluft E. Facial expression recognition in adolescents with mood and anxiety disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 2003, vol. 160, pp. 1172–1174.
  14. Mikhailova E.S. Neirobiologicheskie osnovy opoznaniya chelovekom emotsii po litsevoi ekspressii [Neurobiological basis of human recognition of facial emotion]. Zhurnal vysshei nervnoi deyatel’nosti im I.P. Pavlova [I.P. Pavlov Journal of Higher Nervous Activity (Russia)], 2005, vol. 55, no. 1, pp. 15–28 (In Russian; abstract in English).
  15. Mogg K., Millar N, Bradley B.P. Biases in eye movements to threatening facial expressions in generalized anxiety disorder and depressive disorder. Journal Abnormal Psychology, 2000, vol. 109, no. 4, pp. 695–704.
  16. Rinck M., Becker E.S. Spider fearful individuals attend to threat, then quickly avoid it: Evidence from eye movements. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 2006, vol. 115, pp. 231–238.
  17. Spezio M.L, Adolphs R., Hurley R.S., Piven J. Abnormal use of facial information in high-functioning autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2007, vol. 37, pp. 929–939.
  18. Vassallo S., Cooper S., Douglas J. Visual scanning in the recognition of facial affect: Is there an observer sex difference? Journal of Vision, 2009, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 11–11.
  19. Wang S.M., Kim Y., Yeon B., Lee H., Kweon Y., Lee C., Lee K. Symptom severity of panic disorder associated with impairment in emotion processing of threat-related facial expressions. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci, 2013, vol. 67, no. 4, pp. 245–552.

Information About the Authors

I. G. Shalaginova, Associated Professor, Associated Professor, Chair of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, Institute of Chemistry and Biology, Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University, e-mail:

I. A. Vakoliuk, PhD in Biology, Associated Professor, Head of the Chair of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, Institute of Chemistry and Biology, Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University, e-mail:



Total: 2378
Previous month: 10
Current month: 6


Total: 1180
Previous month: 5
Current month: 1