Social Anxiety and Narrowed Attentional Breadth Toward Faces

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Abstract

The amount of information that can be perceived and processed will be partly determined by attentional breadth (i.e., the scope of attention), which might be narrowed in social anxiety due to a negative attentional bias. The current study examined the effects of stimulus valence on socially anxious individuals’ attentional breadth. Seventy-three undergraduate students completed a computerized dual-task experiment during which they were simultaneously presented with a facial picture at the center of the screen and a black circle (i.e., a target) at the periphery. Participants’ task was to indicate the gender of the model in the picture and the location of the peripheral target. The peripheral target was presented either close to or far from the central picture. Higher levels of social anxiety were significantly associated with greater difficulties detecting the target presented far from the central facial pictures, suggesting that social anxiety is associated with narrowed attentional breadth around social cues. Narrowing of attentional breadth among socially anxious individuals might hamper their ability to process all available social cues, thereby perpetuating social anxiety.

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