A Tale of Two Threats: Social Anxiety and Attention to Social Threat as a Function of Social Exclusion and Non-Exclusion Threats
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To attain and maintain social acceptance, people may attend to cues of possible social rejection or exclusion. Attention to such cues can be influenced by social anxiety. Two competing theories address social anxiety and attention: hypervigilance to versus avoidance of negative social cues. We propose a synthesis of these models such that, in the absence of social exclusion, socially anxious people may be hypervigilant to negative social cues. However, after experiencing social exclusion, they may avoid negative cues in favor of cues signaling social acceptance. Eyetracking was used to examine attention to negative, happy, and neutral faces after social exclusion threat or a non-exclusion threat (N = 27, 69.2% female). Fear of negative evaluation, a core component of social anxiety, was assessed using the Brief Fear of Negative Evaluation (BFNE) scale (Leary 1983). Among individuals with high BFNE, non-exclusion threat elicited greater attention toward negative faces than did social exclusion threat. However, social exclusion threat relative to non-exclusion threat was related to greater attention to positive faces among those with high BFNE. These effects were not observed among those with low BFNE. Thus, data provide preliminary support for a synthesized model.
KeywordsShyness Social anxiety Exclusion Belongingness Attention Individual differences
Data for this study were collected at Florida State University. This research was supported in part by a NIH grant awarded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse to Julia D. Buckner (F31 DA021457).
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