Category: Adult Anxiety - Social
Previous research has found that increased social anxiety (SA) symptoms are associated with attention bias towards threatening stimuli, such as disgust-related words and facial expressions (Buckner, Maner & Schmidt, 2010; Schofield, Johnson, Inhoff, & Coles, 2012). While the relationship between SA symptoms and attention for disgust expressions has been established, the process through which this occurs has been less explored. One potential factor is excessive reassurance seeking (ERS), or the interpersonal style in which individuals consistently seek approval and assurance from others. Though most broadly studied in the context of depression, ERS has been associated with symptoms of SA, even when controlling for depressive symptoms (Cougle, et al., 2012). This study aimed to examine the possible indirect effect of ERS on the relationship between SA symptoms and attention to disgust facial expressions.
Participants were 88 undergraduate students (Mage = 19.79, SD = 3.32; 57.5% female; 71.6% Caucasian) recruited from a large southwestern university. As part of a larger study, participants completed self-report measures of SA symptoms (SIAS-6) and ERS (DIRI-RS). Participants also completed an eye tracking task to measure attentional bias for emotional facial expressions (i.e., happy, sad, disgust, angry, neutral). Each emotional face was designated as an area of interest (AOI) and total fixation duration was calculated for each AOI over ten 30-second trials.
The final sample included 79 participants; 9 participants were excluded due to poor quality eye tracking data. DIRI-RS was entered into a bias corrected bootstrapping model with 1000 resamples with SIAS-6 as the independent variable, and total fixation duration for disgust facial expressions as the dependent variable. Results indicated that the direct effect of SA symptoms on attention to disgust faces was not significant, β = .599, p = .126. However, SA symptoms were significantly related to ERS (β = .710, p < .001), and ERS was significantly related to total fixation duration for disgust faces (β = -.704, p = .012). Importantly, ERS had a significant indirect effect on the relationship between SA symptoms and attention for disgust facial expressions (95% CI = -1.13 to -.121).
Results indicate that SA may affect attention to disgust facial expressions indirectly through reassurance seeking, as indicated by a confidence interval that did not include zero, and a non-significant direct effect of SA symptoms on attention for disgust facial expressions. This study identifies a potential mechanism of the relationship between SA symptoms and attention for disgust. Results contribute to a more comprehensive cognitive and information processing model of SA and suggest a potential target for intervention.