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Cogn Emot. 2016 Sep;30(6):1122-36. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2015.1050359. Epub 2015 Jul 29.

Attention allocation in social anxiety during a speech.

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a Department of Psychology and Beijing Key Laboratory of Behavior and Mental Health , Peking University , Beijing , P.R. China.
b Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences , Boston University , Boston , MA , USA.
c Department of Education , Minzu University of China , Beijing , P.R. China.


Cognitive models assume that social anxiety is associated with and maintained by biased information processing, leading to change in attention allocation, which can be measured by examining eye movement. However, little is known about the distribution of attention among positive, neutral and negative stimuli during a social task and the relative importance of positive versus negative biases in social anxiety. In this study, eye movement, subjective state anxiety and psychophysiology of individuals with high trait social anxiety (HSA) and low trait social anxiety (LSA) were measured during a speech task with a pre-recorded audience. The HSA group showed longer total fixation on negative stimuli and shorter total fixation on positive stimuli compared to the LSA group. We observed that the LSA group shifted attention away from negative stimuli, whereas the HSA group showed no differential attention allocation. The total duration of fixation on negative stimuli predicted subjective anxiety ratings. These results point to a negative bias as well as a lack of a positive bias in HSA individuals during social threat.


Attention allocation; Eye movement; Social anxiety; Social stimuli; Speech task

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