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Title: The role of self-relevance, attention and online interpretation of social cues in social anxiety
Author: McKendrick, Mel
Awarding Body: University of Strathclyde
Current Institution: University of Strathclyde
Date of Award: 2013
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Cognitive behavioural models of social anxiety (i.e. Clark & Wells, 1995; Rapee & Heimberg, 1997) conflict in their predictions regarding attention to facial expressions/gestures. Clark and Wells predict that anxiety is maintained in a social situation by decreased attention towards social cues, precipitated by increased self-focused attention. This results in missed opportunities for positive reinforcement from approving audience responses. Rapee and Heimberg argue that attention is split between imagining ones' own performance and scanning the audience for signs of social disapproval. Therefore, the aim of this thesis was to investigate the role of self-relevance and attention in emotional cue processing. Studies 1-3 investigated cognitive processes in face perception using static face paradigms. The results of an eye tracking composite face task (Study 1) indicated that emotion categorisation occurred rapidly and independently of context. However the effect of viewing an emotion al face on the observer involved higher cognitive processes such as prior expectations and self-relevance. In an online composite face categorisation task (Study 2) socially anxious individuals reported that they focused less on angry eyes when categorising a threatening face than less socially anxious participants. Furthermore, in an eye tracking antisaccade task (Study 3), socially anxious participants processed emotional faces with greater attentional control than neutral faces. Taken together these studies suggest that processing differences may account for attentional biases in socially anxious individuals but attention appears to be independent of context in static face paradigms. In studies 4 and 5, processing efficiency was investigated using dynamic video clips. When the social threat was moderate in an emotion categorisation task 19 (Study 4), socially anxious individuals processed social cues more efficiently and interpreted ambiguous social cues more negatively than less anxious individuals, however, efficiency was slowed when the threat was heightened during a live speech eye tracking task (Study 5). Despite increased attention to emotional compared to neutral faces as the task progressed, no evidence was found for group differences in attention to social cues. However, there were group differences in awareness of social cues and socially anxious participants demonstrated lower self-confidence post-task. This suggests that biased interpretations of social cues in performance situations may not depend on biased attentional processes.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available