Date of Award

8-2008

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Advisor

Geoffrey L. Thorpe

Second Committee Member

Scott Eidelman

Third Committee Member

Jeffrey E. Hecker

Abstract

Consistent with previous studies (Mansell, Clark, Ehlers, & Chen, 1999), the current study aimed to gain a greater understanding of the nature of attentional biases in social anxiety, in particular the role of attentional biases away from positive facial stimuli. Prior researchers have posited that therapeutic benefits may be gained by manipulating the specific attentional biases associated with psychopathology (Dandeneau & Baldwin, 2004; MacLeod, Campbell, Rutherford, & Wilson, 2004; Malcolm, 2003; Wells & Papageorgiou, 1998; Woody, Chambless, & Glass, 1997). Hence the current study also examined whether a computer task designed to encourage attention towards positive social cues may be effective in modifying avoidant attentional biases in socially anxious individuals. Participants were 123 undergraduate students who were high and low in Fear of Negative Evaluation (FNE; Watson & Friend, 1969). All participants completed a packet of questionnaires, listened to a social threat induction, and completed a Dot-Probe Paradigm task during which black and while photographs depicting happy and neutral face pairs were displayed. Individuals high in FNE then completed an attentional training task. In the experimental condition participants found a positive face from within an array of neutral faces, the control condition followed the same procedure but line drawings of flowers were used in place of facial stimuli. Upon completion of the attentional training task, a post-training Dot-Probe Paradigm task was used to detect changes in attentional biases. In contrast to previous studies, the FNE did not predict the direction of attentional biases. In response to positive facial stimuli, 39 participants low in FNE displayed an avoidant bias, and 34 partipants high in FNE displayed a vigilant bias. These results raise questions about the role of avoidant attentional biases in the onset and maintenance of social anxiety. Modest support for the efficacy of the experimental attentional training task was found. A significant decrease in reaction times and a change in direction of attentional biases (e.g., from avoidant to vigilant), was noted in the experimental condition. Although, decreases in reaction times also occurred in the control condition, these changes were not significant and the direction of the attentional bias was not altered (e.g., remained avoidant).

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