Individuals with social anxiety disorder (SAD) have better attention inhibition compared with healthy controls, according to study findings published in Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry.
Researchers at Peking University in China recruited study participants online using advertising on WeChat. Individuals with SAD (n=27; mean age, 22.37 years; 33% men) and healthy controls (n=22; mean age, 21.59 years; 30% men) underwent an interview to evaluate symptomology and completed a visual stimuli task. Eye tracking software was used to evaluate attention inhibition during the task in which different images of faces and fruits were presented to participants.
Among the SAD and control cohorts, Social Interaction Anxiety Scale scores were 50.26 and 16.77 points (P <.001), Social Phobia Scale scores were 41.04 and 9.50 points (P <.001), and Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) scores were 18.37 and 5.18 points (P <.001), respectively.
Healthy controls were observed to have numerically higher error rates and saccade latency than the SAD group when presented with neutral, angry, and happy faces.
Researchers observed a significant error rate main effect for emotion type (F[2,94], 3.367; P =.039). After controlling for BDI scores, the main effect for emotion type remained significant (F[2,92], 5.220; P =.007) and a significant effect for experimental group was observed (F[1,46], 5.277; P =.026).
No significant effects for saccade latency were observed.
The major limitation of this study is the small sample sizes.
Study authors concluded, “The present study is the first to our knowledge to investigate attention inhibition in SAD participants using a single anti-saccade task with facial stimulus. Regardless of the emotional valence of the facial stimuli, the social anxiety group showed lower error rates than the healthy control group. There was no significant group difference in the saccade latency. Results suggest that individuals with SAD have better attention inhibition abilities than healthy controls [sic]. Such enhanced attention inhibition may account for their avoidance of threatening social cues.”
Jiang J, Zhu Y, Rodriguez MA, Wen X, Qian M. Social anxiety does not impair attention inhibition: an emotion anti-saccade task. J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2022;77:101776. doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2022.101776