Social anxiety is related to increased dwell time on socially threatening faces

Amit Lazarov*, Rany Abend, Yair Bar-Haim

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background Identification of reliable targets for therapeutic interventions is essential for developing evidence-based therapies. Threat-related attention bias has been implicated in the etiology and maintenance of social anxiety disorder. Extant response-time-based threat bias measures have demonstrated limited reliability and internal consistency. Here, we examined gaze patterns of socially anxious and nonanxious participants in relation to social threatening and neutral stimuli using an eye-tracking task, comprised of multiple threat and neutral stimuli, presented for an extended time-period. We tested the psychometric properties of this task with the hope to provide a solid stepping-stone for future treatment development. Methods Eye gaze was tracked while participants freely viewed 60 different matrices comprised of eight disgusted and eight neutral facial expressions, presented for 6000 ms each. Gaze patterns on threat and neutral areas of interest (AOIs) of participants with SAD, high socially anxious students and nonanxious students were compared. Internal consistency and test-retest reliability were evaluated. Results Participants did not differ on first-fixation variables. However, overall, socially anxious students and participants with SAD dwelled significantly longer on threat faces compared with nonanxious participants, with no difference between the anxious groups. Groups did not differ in overall dwell time on neutral faces. Internal consistency of total dwell time on threat and neutral AOIs was high and one-week test-retest reliability was acceptable. Limitations Only disgusted facial expressions were used. Relative small sample size. Conclusion Social anxiety is associated with increased dwell time on socially threatening stimuli, presenting a potential target for therapeutic intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)282-288
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Volume193
DOIs
StatePublished - 15 Mar 2016

Keywords

  • Attention allocation
  • Attention bias
  • Eye tracking
  • Reliability
  • Social anxiety

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