Visual attention patterns during online video-mediated interaction in socially anxious individuals.
Azriel O., Lazarov A., Segal A., Bar-Haim Y.
BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: These days, a growing number of social interactions occur through video-mediated communication (VMC). However, little is known about how socially anxious individuals use this technology. Here, we examined the visual attention patterns of high and low socially anxious individuals during a live interaction with a study confederate using a typical online VMC setup. METHODS: High (n = 30) and low (n = 30) socially anxious participants completed a VMC-based social interaction task comprised of two parts: A one-on-one acquaintance interview followed by a one-on-one short presentation assignment. State anxiety was measured before and after the task, and gaze data was collected throughout. RESULTS: High socially anxious participants experienced elevated anxiety following the interaction task, whereas no elevation was observed for low socially anxious participants. Gaze data revealed that high socially anxious participants dwelled longer on the confederate's image during the acquaintance interview compared with the presentation task, and dwelled longer on non-face areas during the presentation relative to during the acquaintance interview. This task-related gaze pattern was not observed among low socially anxious participants. LIMITATIONS: An analog sample was used in this study and future research should replicate its findings in a clinical sample. Future studies may also wish to counterbalance confederate's gender and task order across participants. CONCLUSIONS: The results suggest that during VMC, socially anxious individuals observe their environment differently than non-socially anxious individuals, depending on the context of the interaction. This context-dependency might help explain mixed findings in previous studies. Further theoretical implications of these findings are discussed.