Visual Attention Patterns of Socially Anxious Individuals When Using Facebook: An Eye Tracking Study

Shir Elias, Raz Massad, Amit Lazarov*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social networking sites (SNSs) are an increasingly used medium for social interactions. For socially anxious individuals, SNS-based communication is often preferred over traditional face-to-face socializing. Yet, research on SNSs usage and social anxiety is still less common, with extant studies being mostly correlational among healthy nonanxious participants. Conversely, here, we examined differences in actual gaze patterns to social and nonsocial stimuli between socially anxious and nonanxious individuals while using Facebook. Socially anxious and nonanxious student participants freely viewed a genuine Facebook profile page designed for the present study, for 3.5 minutes, containing 12 social and 12 nonsocial picture stimuli. Gaze patterns on social and nonsocial areas of interest (AOIs) were explored. Subjective uneasiness experienced when viewing the social pictures and state anxiety were also assessed. Finally, 2 weeks following the task, we evaluated participants’ willingness to participate in a follow-up (fictitious) study that required them to passively view their own Facebook profile, and then to actively use it. Results showed that compared with nonanxious participants, socially anxious participants demonstrated a viewing pattern less favoring social pictures, reflecting an attentional avoidance tendency. A significant inverse correlation between subjective uneasiness and percent of dwell time spent on the social AOI emerged. Socially anxious participants also reported higher levels of state anxiety, which was significantly positively correlated with uneasiness scores. Finally, socially anxious participants were also less willing to actively use their Facebook profile page. This study suggests that social anxious individuals are characterized by attentional and behavioral avoidance tendencies when using Facebook.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)995-1007
Number of pages13
JournalBehavior Therapy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Facebook
  • attention allocation
  • avoidance
  • eye tracking
  • social anxiety


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