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Cogn Emot. 2013;27(3):502-11. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2012.719490. Epub 2012 Sep 11.

Working memory load moderates late attentional bias in social anxiety.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74078, USA.


The vigilance-avoidance hypothesis suggests that socially anxious individuals attempt to detect signs that they are being evaluated (vigilance) and subsequently direct attention away from such stimuli (avoidance). Although extensive evidence supports vigilance, data concerning subsequent avoidance is equivocal. Drawing from models of attention, the current study hypothesised that working memory load moderates late attentional bias in social anxiety such that avoidance occurs if working memory load is low, and difficulty disengaging attention occurs if working memory load is high. Forty-one undergraduates (19 socially anxious; 22 non-anxious controls) completed a dot-probe task with emotional (happy and disgust) and neutral facial expressions and a concurrent n-back task. Results supported the hypothesis such that socially anxious subjects demonstrated avoidance of disgust faces when working memory load was absent, but had difficulty disengaging attention during high working memory load. Theoretical implications and directions for future research are discussed.

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