Ribeiro, L. A. & Fearon, P. (2010). Theory of mind and attentional bias to facial emotional expressions: A preliminary study. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology.
Theory of mind ability has been associated with performance in interpersonal interactions and has been found to influence aspects such as emotion recognition, social competence, and social anxiety. Being able to attribute mental states to others requires attention to subtle communication cues such as facial emotional expressions. Decoding and interpreting emotions expressed by the face, especially those with negative valence, are essential skills to successful social interaction. The current study explored the association between theory of mind skills and attentional bias to facial emotional expressions. According to the study hypothesis, individuals with poor theory of mind skills showed preferential attention to negative faces over both non-negative faces and neutral objects. Tentative explanations for the findings are offered emphasizing the potential adaptive role of vigilance for threat as a way of allocating a limited capacity to interpret others’ mental states to obtain as much information as possible about potential danger in the social environment.