Vigilance-avoidance and disengagement are differentially associated with fear and avoidant behaviors in social anxiety

Travis C. Evans, Katherine A. Walukevich, Jennifer C Britton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background Individuals with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) often exhibit preferential attention for social threat, demonstrating abnormal orientation to threat (i.e., vigilance-avoidance) and/or difficulty disengaging from threat. However, no research has compared the relationship between attention indices (i.e., vigilance-avoidance, difficulty disengaging from threat) and characteristic features of the disorder such as fear during social situations (social fear) and avoidant behaviors (social avoidance). Method To address this issue, seventy adults (19.29±1.47 years, 33 females) were separated into low (n=37) or high (n=33) socially anxious groups using clinical cutoff scores on the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale (SIAS). Participants in both groups completed a dot-probe task with congruent, incongruent, and neutral trials to obtain measures of vigilance-avoidance and difficulty disengaging. Using linear regression, we examined the associations each attention index shared with self-reported social fear and social avoidance. Results Exclusively in the high anxious group, greater vigilance towards threat was associated with higher self-reported social fear, but not with social avoidance. However, difficulty disengaging was not associated with either social measure. In the low anxiety group, no relationships between attention indices and either social measure emerged. Limitations Future research with clinical samples is necessary to replicate and extend these findings. The small sample size studied may have limited our ability to detect other smaller effects. Conclusions Indices of attention bias may contribute differently to the etiology and maintenance of SAD, which offers important implications for novel treatments that target attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)124-131
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
StatePublished - Jul 15 2016


  • Attention
  • Avoidance
  • Disengagement
  • Fear
  • Social anxiety
  • Vigilance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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