Does anxiety induced by social interaction influence the perception of bistable biological motion?

Acta psychologica(2021)

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When observing point light walkers orthographically projected onto a frontoparallel plane, the direction in which they are walking is ambiguous. Nevertheless, observers more often perceive them as facing towards than as facing away from them. This phenomenon is known as the "facing-the-viewer bias" (FTV). Two interpretations of the facing-the-viewer bias exist in the literature: a top-down and a bottom-up interpretation. Support for the top-down interpretation comes from evidence that social anxiety correlates with the FTV bias. However, the direction of the relationship between the FTV bias and social anxiety is inconsistent across studies and evidence for a correlation has mostly been obtained with relatively small samples. Therefore, the first aim of the current study was to provide a strong test of the hypothesized relationship between social anxiety and the facing-the-viewer bias in a large sample of 200 participants recruited online. In addition, a second aim was to further extend top-down accounts by investigating if the FTV bias is also related to autistic traits. Our results replicate the FTV bias, showing that people indeed tend to perceive orthographically projected point light walkers as facing towards them. However, no correlation between the FTV bias and social interaction anxiety (tau = -0.01, p = .86, BF = 0.18) or autistic traits (tau = -0.0039, p = .45, BF = 0.18) was found. As such, our data cannot confirm the top-down interpretation of the facing-the-viewer bias.
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