The Effects of Social Anxiety and State Anxiety on Visual Attention: Testing the Vigilance–Avoidance Hypothesis

J. Suzanne Singh, Michelle C. Capozzoli, Michael D. Dodd, Debra A. Hope

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


A growing theoretical and research literature suggests that trait and state social anxiety can predict attentional patterns in the presence of emotional stimuli. The current study adds to this literature by examining the effects of state anxiety on visual attention and testing the vigilance–avoidance hypothesis, using a method of continuous visual attentional assessment. Participants were 91 undergraduate college students with high or low trait fear of negative evaluation (FNE), a core aspect of social anxiety, who were randomly assigned to either a high or low state anxiety condition. Participants engaged in a free view task in which pairs of emotional facial stimuli were presented and eye movements were continuously monitored. Overall, participants with high FNE avoided angry stimuli and participants with high state anxiety attended to positive stimuli. Participants with high state anxiety and high FNE were avoidant of angry faces, whereas participants with low state and low FNE exhibited a bias toward angry faces. The study provided partial support for the vigilance–avoidance hypothesis. The findings add to the mixed results in the literature that suggest that both positive and negative emotional stimuli may be important in understanding the complex attention patterns associated with social anxiety. Clinical implications and suggestions for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)377-388
Number of pages12
JournalCognitive Behaviour Therapy
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 3 2015


  • attention
  • eyetracking
  • social anxiety
  • threat
  • vigilance–avoidance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology


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