Attentional Bias in Social Anxiety: Manipulation of Stimulus Duration and Social-evaluative Anxiety

Abstract

This study investigated the nature of pre-attentive and conscious attentional processing to different categories of threatening words in a non-clinical socially anxious sample. Individuals high (n = 41) and low (n = 41) in social avoidance and distress, as measured by the Social Avoidance and Distress Scale (SAD), performed a visual dot-probe task which included four word groups; negative evaluation, social situations, somatic sensation and physical threat. Participants completed masked trials (14 ms + masking for 486 ms), followed by unmasked trials (500 ms/no mask), under conditions of either social-evaluation or non-evaluation. The results showed that in the social-evaluation condition, high socially anxious individuals, in comparison to the low socially anxious, demonstrated an attentional bias towards masked physical threat words. There were no further attentional processing differences between the social anxiety groups to masked or unmasked stimuli, in either experimental condition. The results suggest that theories of social anxiety might need to accommodate biases to physical threat cues.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    As suggested by Howell (1997), the reaction time data was also log transformed (LG10) to reduce the positive skewness of the response distribution. Notably, the patterns of findings was identical to those reported above.

  2. 2.

    All analyses were based on the participants’ level of social avoidance and distress as determined by the SAD scale. The participants’ scores of fear of negative evaluation based on the FNE scale did not produce any significant effects of interactions (all Fs < 1).

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Acknowledgements

An ESRC case collaborative with Sheffield Health and Social Research Consortium award to the first author supported this research. We would also like to thank Professor Glenys Parry and Dr Tom Rickets for their help and advice in this study.

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Correspondence to Margarita S. P. Ononaiye.

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Ononaiye, M.S.P., Turpin, G. & Reidy, J.G. Attentional Bias in Social Anxiety: Manipulation of Stimulus Duration and Social-evaluative Anxiety. Cogn Ther Res 31, 727–740 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-006-9096-8

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Keywords

  • Social anxiety
  • Attentional bias
  • Selective attention