Social phobia has been related to dysfunctions of attention allocation that include hyper-vigilance and subsequent perceptual avoidance of social threat cues. This hypothesized deficit has been difficult to test using behavioral and/or neurophysiological measures because continuous, near real-time measures of resource deployment were not available so far, and the covert processes of attention orienting can not be measured by means of behavioral approaches. The research proposed here directly addresses this difficulty, examining the time course of attentional resource allocation by means of steady-state visual evoked potentials (ssVEPs), evoked by flickering visual stimuli. This electroencephalographic (EEG) measure uniquely provides for a near real-time assessment of visual selective attention. The overall goal of the proposed research is to identify the role of dysfunctional attention to social threat cues in the psychopathology of social phobia. It is planned to determine whether individuals characterized by high social fear or by social phobia direct perceptual and attentional resources towards or away from social threat stimuli, and in what temporal order they do so. Combining the ssVEP approach with self-report, behavioral, and physiological measures, we first aim to quantify the relationship between attention dynamics and the intensity of then aim to study the relationship between dysfunctional attention dynamics and the severity of social phobia during social threat cue processing. Finally, we plan to assess the predictive value of ssVEP-based attention dynamics as prognostic assessment attention. This information has strong implications for improving treatment selection and outcome prognosis. Specifically, matching patients to exposure-based or cognitive treatments will benefit from information as to the nature of their hypervigilance vis-?-vis avoidance of social threat cues.
Social phobia has been related to dysfunctions of attention allocation that may include chronic hyper-vigilance and subsequent perceptual avoidance of social threat cues. The research proposed here directly addresses the neurobehavioral mechanisms of such a deficit. It examines the time course of attentional resource allocation in relation to symptom severity of social phobia, and as a predictor of treatment outcome. This information has implications for improving treatment selection and outcome prognosis. Specifically, matching patients to exposure-based or cognitive treatments will benefit from information as to the nature of their hypervigilance vis-?-vis avoidance of social threat cues.
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