Original Article

Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 99-105

First online:

Difficulty Disengaging Attention from Social Threat in Social Anxiety

  • Julia D. BucknerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Louisiana State UniversityDepartment of Psychology, Florida State University Email author 
  • , Jon K. ManerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Florida State University
  • , Norman B. SchmidtAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Florida State University

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Selective attention to threat is believed to maintain social anxiety, yet the nature of attentional processing remains unclear. It has been posited that difficulty disengaging from threat cues may be implicated. The present study tested this hypothesis using an eye tracking paradigm to directly examine eye fixations in a non-clinical sample (N = 46). Eye movements were tracked during presentation of social cues (happy or disgust faces) embedded with non-social cues matched on dimensions of valence, threat, and arousal. Stimuli were presented for 2,000 ms to allow for examination of attention over time. Results suggest that individuals with higher social anxiety may demonstrate relative difficulty disengaging from negative social cues (i.e., disgust faces). Social anxiety was unrelated to eye movements concerning happy faces. Implications for the maintenance and etiology of social anxiety are discussed.


Attentional bias Disengagement Eye movements Faces Social anxiety Social phobia