Engaging with the wrong people: The basis of selective attention to negative faces in social anxiety

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© The Author(s) 2016.Previous studies investigating the hypothesis that elevated social anxiety vulnerability is characterized by an attentional bias to negative social information have yielded inconsistent findings. One possible explanation for this inconsistency is that most such studies have failed to distinguish bias in attentional engagement with, and in attentional disengagement from, negative social information. It has been proposed that only one of these two possible forms of attentional bias may be associated with elevated social anxiety vulnerability, potentially giving rise to observed inconsistencies when assessment approaches have failed to dissociate them. The few studies that have sought to investigate this issue have been hampered by methodological limitations, which have compromised their capacity to differentially assess these two facets of attentional selectivity. In the present study, we employed a recently developed variant of the attentionalprobe task that has proven capable of dissociating attentional engagement bias and disengagement bias, to contrast the patterns of attentional selectivity shown by participants high and low in social anxiety. Our findings reveal that elevated social anxiety vulnerability is characterized only by facilitated attentional engagement with socially negative information and not by impaired attentional disengagement from socially negative information.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)793-804
Number of pages12
JournalClinical Psychological Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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