Self-focused attentionis the attention that focuses on processes and appearance of the person self.When people focus their attention intensively at their inner processes and/orat their appearance instead of focusing their attention at the task at hand, theyoften have problems to perform their task at hand well. For example if a person(let’s call him John) tries to control not to stutter during a conversation byimaginatively rehearsing certain sentences extensively, he might forget toobserve his conversation partner. The conversation partner (let’s call her Eva)might think that John is not interested in what she is saying, or she mightfind John tensed. Eva’s negative orincorrect thoughts about John are exactly those what John feared before andduring the conversation. Thus, through this process of extreme self-focusedattention John might be liked less and fear social situation involvingconversation in which he fears to stutter. If such or other fears to beevaluated negatively in social situations are intense and impair one’s dailyroutine, it might be a social anxiety disorder. In Europe almost every tenthperson suffers from this deliberating disorder at least once in a lifetime.
In scientific researchit has indeed been shown that people, who fill out at questionnaires that theytend to focus more at them selves during social situations also score higher atsocial anxiety symptom questionnaires. Though questionnaire research is notvery reliable, respectively does not tell very much about what come first. Dosocial anxious people focus more at them selves, because self-focused attentionis a symptom of social anxiety? Or does self-focused attention enhance andtherewith cause social anxiety? And how is the causal relationship betweensocial anxiety, self-focused attention and social performance?
The present project usesa new experimental paradigm, with which for the first time the causalrelationships between social anxiety, focus of attention at the own appearanceand social behavior can be investigated. Thirty female patients with a socialanxiety disorder and 30 women without such a disorder will come to ourlaboratory and have a conversation via a video conference, which means thatboth persons will watch a directly transferred video presentation of herselfand of the other person during the conversation. During this conversation thegaze behavior will be measured with an eye-tracker. To compare these laboratoryfindings with real-life situations, participants will also fill out a palm-topdiary in the morning and after social-anxiety-provoking situations for 7 days.This diary will include questions about (anticipatory) social anxiety, self-focusedattention, self-image, and distress in fearful social situations.
The significance of thisproposal lies in the novelty of the paradigm, which makes direct measurement ofself-focused attention during a social interaction situation possible for thefirst time. The findings will contribute to theoretical models that try toexplain the development and maintenance of social anxiety disorder. Moreover,this method could be developed to be useful in the diagnosis and treatment ofsocial anxiety disorder.