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Individuals with social anxiety have been found to exhibit hypervigilance to detection of socially-relevant threat cues. Additionally, it has been posited that socially anxious individuals experience increased anxiety when attending to a social threat, resulting in subsequent threat avoidance to decrease anxiety. Although this pattern of "vigilance-avoidance" is believed to maintain social anxiety as it prevents habituation to threat, this model has received little empirical investigation. The present study utilized an eye tracking paradigm to examine this model in an undergraduate sample (N = 46). Consistent with the model, it was hypothesized that, unlike non-socially anxious individuals, socially anxious individuals would demonstrate vigilance-avoidance for disgust faces (i.e., socially threatening stimuli) but not happy faces (i.e., non-threatening social stimuli). Results showed that high socially anxious (HSA) participants did not differ from low socially anxious (LSA) participants in attention to initial attention to disgust faces. However, HSA participants demonstrated avoidance of disgust faces by the 500-1,000 ms time block relative to LSA participants. Subsequently, HSA participants exhibited a significantly slower rate of disengagement from disgust faces than LSA participants. HSA participants did not differ from LSA participants in attention to happy faces. Results provide support for the avoidance component of the model and suggest that socially anxious individuals may engage in delayed disengagement of social threat.
A Thesis Submitted to the Department of Psychology in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science.
Includes bibliographical references.
Florida State University
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