Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 36, Issue 5, pp 512–521 | Cite as

The Causal Role of Attentional Bias for Threat Cues in Social Anxiety: A Test on a Cyber-Ostracism Task

  • Alexandre HeerenEmail author
  • Virginie Peschard
  • Pierre PhilippotEmail author
Original Article


Cognitive models of social phobia postulate that attentional biases for threat play an important role in the maintenance of this disorder (e.g., Clark 2001). Consistent with this idea, studies have demonstrated that training social phobics to attend to non-threatening stimuli results in clinical benefits (Amir et al. in J Abnorm Psychol 117:860–868, 2008). However, no study has directly examined the causal status of selective attentional bias in social phobia. The present study explicitly investigated this issue. We used an experimental design similar to MacLeod et al. (J Abnorm Psychol 111:107–123, 2002), which involved two consecutive experimental phases: an attentional bias induction phase and a stress phase. During the attentional bias induction, participants completed modified versions of a dot-probe task; for half of the participants the task was designed to induce a biased attentional response for faces expressing disgust, for the other half, the task induced no bias. Then, all participants were exposed to a task inducing social rejection. Results indicate that the induction of an attentional bias for threatening information resulted in increased anxiety during social rejection. Implications for cognitive models of social phobia are discussed.


Attention bias modification Social phobia Attentional bias Emotional vulnerability Cyber-ostracism Social exclusion 



This work was supported by a grant from the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research, awarded to Alexandre Heeren (1.1.315.09.F), by a Joined Research Grant (ARC 06/11-337) from the Communauté Française de Belgique, awarded to Pierre Philippot, and by a grant from the Fonds de la Recherche Fondamentale Collective (2. 4511.11) from the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research, awarded to Virginie Peschard.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Institute for Psychological ScienceUniversité catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium
  2. 2.National Fund for Scientific ResearchBrusselsBelgium

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