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Title: Loneliness and hypervigilance to social threats in adults
Author: Bangee, Munirah
ISNI:       0000 0004 6421 5959
Awarding Body: University of Central Lancashire
Current Institution: University of Central Lancashire
Date of Award: 2016
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A current theoretical model (Cacioppo & Hawkley, 2009) proposes that lonely people are hypervigilant (i.e. on high alert) to social threats in the social environment. This leads to attention, memory, and confirmatory biases, which undermine the opportunity to develop positive social relationships. This thesis outlines a series of six studies that systematically examine the hypervigilance to social threat hypothesis in loneliness using adult samples. The studies described in this thesis make an original contribution to the loneliness literature and uses different experimental paradigms to examine whether lonely adults are hypervigilant to social threats that are visually presented. Studies 1 and 5 bridge the gap in the current knowledge to examine the visual attention processing of lonely adults to social threat depicted as social rejection stimuli using eye-tracker methodology. Study 2 investigates whether loneliness is associated to eye-gaze and emotion processing utilising a cognitive paradigm. Studies 3 and 4 extend the literature on visual attention processing of lonely adults to investigate the processing of emotional information depicted as facial expressions using eye-tracker methodology. Specifically, study 3 uses a paradigm of four different emotional expressions (i.e. anger, afraid, happy and neutral), and study 4 utilises a face in a crowd paradigm for which different ratios of happy to angry faces were presented. Study 6 extends the work on hypervigilance to social threats depicted as social rejection stimuli to examine how these stimuli are processed by lonely adults in the brain using EEG methodology. Findings from study 1 and 5 suggest that lonely adults show visual attentional biases to social threat stimuli linked to social rejection. Specifically, study 1 findings indicate that lonely adults show a hypervigilance-avoidance pattern of processing towards social rejection stimuli, whilst study 5 findings indicate that lonely adults show disengagement difficulties when processing social rejection stimuli. Study 2 indicates that loneliness is not associated to eye-gaze and emotion processing. Study 3 and 4 provide support that lonely adults are more attentive to angry facial expressions presented as static images. Findings from study 6 indicate that lonely adults detect and process social threats quickly compared to non-social threats in the brain. As outlined in Cacioppo and Hawkley’s theoretical model, the findings of this thesis support the idea that loneliness is related to initial cognitive processes. Specifically, lonely adults are hypervigilant to social threats depicted as angry facial expressions and social rejection stimuli. Thus, the thesis examines an important process within the model. The findings of the thesis can be used to inform ideas for future academic and intervention work in the loneliness field.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: C800 - Psychology