Internal versus external attention in social anxiety: an investigation using a novel paradigm.
Mansell W., Clark DM., Ehlers A.
Several cognitive models propose that social anxiety is associated with increased self-focused attention. Indirect evidence for this hypothesis has been provided by questionnaire studies, and by cognitive psychology paradigms that have demonstrated reduced processing of external information during feared social-evaluative situations. However, no studies have simultaneously measured on-line attention to internal and external events. A probe detection task that aimed to measure the balance of attention between internal and external stimuli was developed. High and low socially anxious individuals were instructed to detect two probes. The external probe was superimposed on pictures of faces (happy, neutral, angry) or household objects that were presented on a VDU. The 'internal' probe was a pulse to the finger which participants were led to believe represented significant changes in their physiology. Compared to low speech anxious individuals, high speech anxious individuals showed an internal attentional bias, that was specific to conditions of social-evaluative threat.