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Visual attention and social anxiety: Oculomotor behavior when threatened

J. Suzanne Singh, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


A growing theoretical and research literature suggests that trait and state social anxiety can predict attentional patterns in the presence of emotional stimuli. The current study addressed some inconsistencies and gaps in the literature using eye tracking methodology. Participants with high and low trait social anxiety were randomly assigned to either give a speech or to watch a video of another individual delivering a speech (state social anxiety manipulation). Next, participants were asked to engage in a free view task in which pairs of emotional facial stimuli (angry-happy, angry-neutral, or happy-neutral) were presented for 3 s. Eye movements were monitored continuously. Results revealed that individuals with high trait social anxiety are faster to make their first fixation on neutral and positive stimuli on trials that contain threatening stimuli, and that they are faster to disengage attention from threatening stimuli after their initial fixation on trials that contain neutral stimuli than low trait social anxiety participants. The trait social anxiety groups do not differ with regard to how often their attention returns to emotional stimuli or to how long they attend to emotional stimuli over the course of the trial. State social anxiety influences how often attention returns to each type of stimulus and the duration of the fixations on each type of stimulus. State social anxiety does not influence the timing or duration of the first fixation on emotional stimuli. Results are discussed in reference to the vigilance-avoidance hypothesis and basic attentional processes. Treatment implications, limitations of the study, and suggestions for future research are also discussed.^

Subject Area

Psychology, Clinical

Recommended Citation

Singh, J. Suzanne, "Visual attention and social anxiety: Oculomotor behavior when threatened" (2011). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3465871.