Aberrant Gaze Patterns in Social Anxiety Disorder: An Eye Movement Assessment during Public Speaking
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Social anxiety disorder is maintained by biased attentional processing, which may encompass biases in the component engagement, disengagement, and avoidance attentional processes. However, few studies have directly examined whether such biases occur during social-evaluative conditions characteristically feared in social anxiety. The current study presents a novel approach for the assessment of attentional bias. Clinically socially anxious (n = 27) and control (n = 29) participants were required to give a speech in front of a pre-recorded audience displaying emotional social gestures while eye movement was recorded. Socially anxious individuals avoided attending to positive and threatening stimuli. At the onset of an emotional gesture, control participants were additionally faster to orient towards positive, relative to threatening gestures, while this bias was absent in socially anxious participants. The findings suggest that during conditions of social-evaluative stress, social anxiety is characterized by the attentional avoidance of emotional stimuli, and the absence of an engagement bias favouring positive stimuli.
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