Self-focused attention in social anxiety: a naturalistic eye tracking investigation

Authors: Antolin, J., Gregory, N. and Bolderston, H.

Conference: 20th European Conference on Eye Movements

Dates: 18-22 August 2019

Place of Publication: Journal of eye movement research


Self-focused attention (SFA) is heightened in individuals with social anxiety (SA) which may cause inattention to others’ positive external cues. As such, attentional training techniques have been developed to shift attention externally to reduce anxiety (Stot et al., 2013; Wells 1999). However, this has never been validated in a naturalistic setting. Therefore, we manipulated SFA whilst participants (N = 41) engaged in a Skype conversation. During the interaction, participants’ own image was visible (self-focused condition) and then was later removed (external-focused condition), whilst eye-movements were recorded. Participants completed self-report measures of trait social anxiety and then self-focussed attention and state anxiety measures at three time points.

Whilst we expected that participants would report increased self-focus and anxiety and display increased self-gaze and less experimenter-gaze during the self-focussed condition, we predicted that this would be most pronounced in higher SA individuals. Conversely, we predicted that higher SA individuals would continue to report increased self-focus and anxiety and would show reduced experimenter-gaze during the external condition.

Our results suggest that self-focus increases for all participants when the self-image is visible but that those with high SA report increased state anxiety regardless of whether the self-camera is on, questioning the validity of attentional training aimed at increasing external-focus to reduce anxiety. Eye movement results will be discussed in terms of different viewing patterns emerging during self and external focused conditions in those higher and lower in SA. Implications for adapting attention-based therapeutic interventions will also be discussed.

Source: Manual