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Attention Deployment to the Eye Region of Emotional Faces among Adolescents with and without Social Anxiety Disorder

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Abstract

Background

Avoidance of the eye region, especially of faces showing anger, may maintain social anxiety symptoms by negatively reinforcing expectations and fears associated with social situations. Eye-tracking research, however, has yet to explicitly examine differences in attention allocation to the eye region of emotional faces among adolescents with social anxiety disorder (SAD).

Methods

Gaze patterns were explored in a sample of youth with and without SAD matched on age and sex.

Results

Adolescents with SAD were quicker to fixate, and maintained their initial gaze longer, to the eye region, regardless of emotion, relative to teens without SAD. Group-level differences also emerged for initial fixation duration directed to the eye region of angry faces (when compared with happy faces).

Conclusions

These findings suggest that vigilance to the eye region of faces, especially angry faces, (when compared with happy faces) is characteristic of adolescents with SAD. Adolescents with SAD seem drawn to the eye region, more so than teens without SAD.

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Notes

  1. The other metrics (latency and first fixation duration) were not examined given limited power to run analyses since repeated measures ANOVA will exclude data from subjects who only allocated attention to the eyes; specifically, latency and first fixation duration have missing data because if attention was not first allocated to the eye region, it is coded as a missing value (e.g., “999” or “NaN”) not a “0” value. A “0” value would skew latency and first fixation duration averages since those metrics rely on time, not number of trials.

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Funding

This work was partially supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, Grant 5R34MH096915 [PI: Ollendick] and the Virginia Tech Graduate Research Development Program.

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Correspondence to Nicole N. Capriola-Hall.

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Capriola-Hall, N.N., Ollendick, T.H. & White, S.W. Attention Deployment to the Eye Region of Emotional Faces among Adolescents with and without Social Anxiety Disorder. Cogn Ther Res 45, 456–467 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-020-10169-2

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