Time Course of Attention in Socially Anxious Individuals: Investigating the Effects of Adult Attachment Style

Yulisha Byrow*, Nigel T M Chen, Lorna Peters

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Theoretical models of social anxiety propose that attention biases maintain symptoms of social anxiety. Research findings regarding the time course of attention and social anxiety disorder have been mixed. Adult attachment style may influence attention bias and social anxiety, thus contributing to the mixed findings. This study investigated the time course of attention toward both negative and positive stimuli for individuals diagnosed with social anxiety disorder (SAD) and assessed whether attachment style moderates this relationship.One hundred and thirty participants (age: M = 29.03) were assessed using a semistructured clinical interview. Those meeting eligibility criteria for the clinical sample met DSM-IV criteria for SAD (n = 90, age: M = 32.18), while those in the control sample did not meet criteria for any mental disorder (n = 23, age: M = 26.04, 11 females). All participants completed self-report measures examining depression, social anxiety, adult attachment style, and completed an eye-tracking task used to measure the time course of attention. Eye-tracking data were analysed using growth curve analysis.The results indicate that participants in the control group overall displayed greater vigilance towards emotional stimuli, were faster at initially fixating on the emotional stimulus, and had a greater percentage of fixations towards the emotional stimulus as the stimulus presentation time progressed compared to those in the clinical group. Thus, the clinical participants were more likely to avoid fixating on emotional stimuli in general (both negative and positive) compared to those in the control group.These results support the Clark and Wells (1995) proposal that socially anxious individuals avoid attending to emotional information. Attachment style did not moderate this association, however anxious attachment was related to greater vigilance toward emotional compared to neutral stimuli.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)560-571
Number of pages12
JournalBehavior Therapy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016


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