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Background: It has been proposed that people with high compared to low trait social anxiety pay greater attention to negative information concerning upcoming social events, and that such attentional bias drives the disproportionately elevated levels of state anxiety they exhibit in response to these events. These two hypotheses have not yet been adequately tested. Method: We recruited participants who were high or low in trait social anxiety. Participants completed a mock job interview, and reported their state anxiety during this experience. Prior attentional bias to negative, relative to benign, information concerning this event was assessed using a variant of the dual probe approach, in which participants were exposed to dual videos, each comprising two video clips of people who had completed the mock job interview, discussing either negative or benign aspects of this experience. Results: High compared to low trait social anxiety participants displayed higher attentional bias to negative social information, and this bias mediated the association between elevated trait social anxiety and heightened state anxiety experienced during the mock job interview. Conclusions: These findings demonstrate that elevated trait social anxiety is characterized by an attentional bias to negative, relative to benign, information concerning an upcoming social event, and that this attentional bias statistically predicts the disproportionately elevated state anxiety that people with high trait social anxiety experience during such an event.
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