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Keywords:

  • social anxiety disorder;
  • social phobia;
  • gaze avoidance;
  • eye tracking;
  • fear of evaluation

Background

The relationship between gaze avoidance and social anxiety has been examined previously using eye-tracking and static social images. Overall, findings to date highlight increased gaze avoidance as a behavioral marker of social anxiety. The purpose of the present study was to better elucidate the relationship between gaze avoidance and social anxiety disorder (SAD) symptoms via covert eye tracking of gaze tendencies in response to a dynamic computerized social interaction simulation. On the basis of the bivalent fear of evaluation (BFOE) model of social anxiety,[1] it was expected that participants with SAD, compared to nonsocially anxious control (NSAC) participants, would exhibit gaze avoidance in response to both positive and negative social feedback.

Methods

Participants with SAD (n = 20), and a sample of demographically equivalent NSAC (n = 19), were administered clinical diagnostic interviews and a computerized social simulation task. The simulation task consisted of viewing 26 dynamic videos (13 positive and 13 negative), each 12 s in duration. All participants were covertly eye tracked during the simulation.

Results

SAD participants exhibited greater global gaze avoidance in response to both the positive and negative video clips in comparison to the controls. Moreover, the SAD group exhibited equivalent gaze avoidance in response to stimuli of both emotional valences.

Conclusions

These results provide additional support for gaze avoidance as a behavioral marker of SAD, as well as additional support for the BFOE model. Implications for the assessment of SAD are discussed.