University study shows connection between anxiety, misreading facial expressions

By Brittany Abeijon

Highly anxious people are quick to notice changes in emotional expressions but are not able to distinguish facial expressions as accurately as secure people, according to a study at the University.

“Anxious individuals may jump to conclusions before they are able to judge a situation accurately,” said Mandy Vicary, graduate student and one of the authors of the study.

Vicary worked along with other University students in collaboration with R. Chris Fraley, a University professor of psychology, on the study, which was conducted as an online experiment and was tested on volunteer subjects.

Highly anxious adults were identified based on criteria concerning feelings of security in their relationships, Vicary said.

Statements such as “I often worry that my partner doesn’t love me,” or “I feel comfortable depending on romantic partners,” were presented to participants who were then asked to indicate how much they agreed or disagreed with each statement, Vicary said.

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Vicary added that dating relationships provide a perfect context for understanding the importance of accurately comprehending emotional expressions. Previous research indicates that people who are classified as highly anxious tend to have more conflict with their romantic partners.

Michael Marks, graduate student, became involved in the study while doing research on facial expressions and also the theory of attachment.

“The actual study was conducted by showing people movies that were 100 frames long of faces morphing from neutral to happy, sad or angry,” Marks said. “People had to stop the movie when they first noticed the emotion appear, then identify the emotion.”

The research shows that attachment systems may be strong among University freshmen, as they may be away from home for the first time, feeling homesick and missing boyfriends or girlfriends back home, Marks said.

Although the study’s results are taken from adults, most participants were around 24- or 25-years-old.

“One could generalize these findings to college students fairly comfortably,” Vicary said.

To take your own free personality tests and quizzes, go to Professor R. Chris Fraley’s Web site at