How Social Anxiety Influences Attentional Orienting and the Role of Anxiety

dc.contributor.advisorPeterson, Matthew S.
dc.contributor.authorAzarian, Seyed Babak
dc.creatorAzarian, Seyed Babak
dc.description.abstractPast research indicates that threatening social information can exert strong influence over attention, particularly in individuals reporting high levels of anxiety. However, until now these findings have been largely restricted to threatening facial expressions with direct or averted eye gaze. Through a series of experiments we investigated whether these effects on attentional orienting are unique to threatening faces, or extend to other forms of threat-related social stimuli, and in particular, fearful and angry human body postures. Research surrounding attentional orienting and threatening body postures is relatively scarce, despite its ability to provide a more comprehensive description of how our cognitive systems process threatening social information and how such information can bias attention. In each of three experiments eye tracking was employed to measure saccade reaction time instead of the more traditional manual response, since it provides greater sensitivity and allows one to trace overt orienting directly. In all studies, postures or head cues were presented centrally, followed by targets that appeared in the periphery and whose fixation required an eye movement. Where direct-facing angry and fearful postures held attention, evidenced by slower eye movements towards targets, the same postures in averted position caused orienting to congruent targets to be facilitated. This occurred even though posture emotion and direction were always task irrelevant, suggesting that the threat-related attentional modulations were automatic and involuntary. These results suggest that for anxious individuals, the ability to orient attention away from a posture and toward a target is affected in exactly opposite ways depending on the directionality of the threatening posture stimulus. In conclusion, our findings indicate that both fearful and angry postures can powerfully guide attention in a manner that is determined by their orientation, but only when anxiety is present. Such modulations bias attention toward threat, keeping the eyes focused on negative features of the environment, which over time may promote further worry and distress.
dc.format.extent97 pages
dc.rightsCopyright 2014 Seyed Babak Azarian
dc.subjectCognitive psychology
dc.subjectEye movements
dc.titleHow Social Anxiety Influences Attentional Orienting and the Role of Anxiety
dc.typeDissertation Mason University


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