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Behav Res Ther. 2002 Dec;40(12):1403-14.

Selective orienting of attention to masked threat faces in social anxiety.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK.


The aims of the study were two-fold: to examine whether previous evidence of a pre-attentive bias for masked threat faces in anxious individuals could be replicated, and to assess the relationship between the predicted bias and measures of trait and social anxiety. Pairs of face stimuli were briefly displayed and masked in a modified version of the visual probe task. Results indicated that high anxious individuals were faster to respond to probes occurring in the spatial location of masked threat rather than neutral faces; consistent with their attention being automatically captured by sub-threshold threat cues. Furthermore, this vigilance effect for masked threat faces appeared to be primarily a function of social anxiety and social avoidance, rather than trait anxiety. It was also more apparent when threat faces were presented in the left visual field, suggestive of right hemisphere involvement.

Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd.

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