Attentional biases in social anxiety and social phobia
Clark and Wells (1995) argued that individuals with social phobia attend solely towards internal threat, whereas Beck, Emery and Greenberg (1985) and Rapee and Heimberg (1997) proposed that social phobics attend towards internal and external threat cues, during a social encounter. With this in mind, the aim was to investigate attentional processing in social anxiety and social phobia using the dot-probe task. Findings depend in part on which aspects of social anxiety are measured and used to select groups, therefore an exploration of the psychometric properties of the Fear of Negative Evaluation (FNE: Watson & Friend, 1969) and the Social Avoidance and Distress (SAD: Watson & Friend, 1969) scales was undertaken. Experiment one investigated conscious processing in high (n = 40) and low (n = 40) socially anxious participants. The results showed that the high socially anxious attended towards negative evaluation words (non-evaluative condition) and somatic sensation words (social-evaluative condition), compared to the low socially anxious. Experiment two explored pre-attentive and conscious attentional processing. A pre-attentional bias towards physical threat words was evident in the high socially anxious (n = 41), compared to the low socially anxious participants (n = 41), under social-evaluative conditions. There were no more significant findings. Experiment three investigated conscious attentional processing in generalised social phobics (n = 16) and low anxious controls (n = 16). The results revealed that individuals with generalised social phobia attended towards the physical threat words, compared to the matched controls. Study four examined the psychometric characteristics of the FNE and SAD. The FNE comprised of a fear of negative evaluation factor and the SAD a social avoidance and distress and a fear of new situations and strangers factor. The findings overall showed that attentional biases in social anxiety and social phobia can be specific to certain aspects of threat and modified by changes in level and cause of state anxiety.