Internal and External Attentional Biases in Social Anxiety: The Effect of Effortful Control

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Virginia Tech


Two cognitive processes have been proposed to play a role in social anxiety: self-focused attention and threat perception bias. Mansell, Clark, and Ehlers (2003) devised a novel dot-probe paradigm to simultaneously measure on-line attention to internal and external events among socially anxious adults. Their results indicated that high speech anxious individuals show an internal attention bias specific to a social threat condition. They did not find any differences between groups in a no-threat condition; however, the researchers did not account for processes of effortful control of attention. The current study replicated the Mansell et al. study with an added condition to control for effortful processes of attention. Fifty young adults (mean age = 19.8) were assessed using a self-report measure of social anxiety, as well as the Mansell et al. dot-probe paradigm. Half of the subjects were randomly assigned to a brief (250ms) stimulus presentation time with the other half to a 25 second condition, as used by Mansell et al. In addition, subjects were randomly assigned to social threat and non-threat conditions. A three-way interaction of anxiety x threat x length of stimulus presentation was predicted, such that socially anxious individuals would show an external attention bias when not under social threat (threat perception bias). However, under threat, it was hypothesized that anxious individuals would shift their attention internally (self-focused attention). Results of the current study did not support the hypothesized interaction, and provided only equivocal evidence for both self-focused attention and threat perception bias.



attention, executive functioning, social anxiety