Previous research has found that individuals with social phobia differ from controls in their processing of emotional faces. For instance, people with social phobia show increased attention to briefly presented threatening faces. However, when exposure times are increased, the direction of this attentional bias is more unclear. Studies investigating eye movements have found both increased as well as decreased attention to threatening faces in socially anxious participants. The current study investigated eye movements to emotional faces in eight patients with social phobia and 34 controls. Three different tasks with different exposure durations were used, which allowed for an investigation of the time course of attention. At the early time interval, patients showed a complex pattern of both vigilance and avoidance of threatening faces. At the longest time interval, patients avoided the eyes of sad, disgust, and neutral faces more than controls, whereas there were no group differences for angry faces.
attention, social phobia, eye movements, face processing, emotion.