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Difficulty Disengaging Attention from Social Threat in Social Anxiety

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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.

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This research was supported in part by NIH awards F31 DA021457 (Buckner) and RO1 MH064734 (Maner and Schmidt).

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Correspondence to Julia D. Buckner.

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Data for the present study were collected in the Anxiety and Behavioral Health Research Laboratory at Florida State University. The data reported herein are from the first author’s Master’s thesis, completed under the supervision of the third author. The first author wishes to thank the members of her thesis committee for their input on this study and Jose Silgado for his assistance on this project.

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Buckner, J.D., Maner, J.K. & Schmidt, N.B. Difficulty Disengaging Attention from Social Threat in Social Anxiety. Cogn Ther Res 34, 99–105 (2010).

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