Social Anxiety Studied Through Eye Movement Tracking

Social anxiety disorder is common among adults and it includes common symptoms like the fear of judgment and a negative evaluation from people.  Such patients avoid social gatherings and meeting people. If this situation persists untreated for a long term it may cause a negative change in their behavior which is a threat to society. Their reactions and responses towards certain people and situations can be very disturbing for others. Researches have shown that people suffering from social anxiety disorder have less eye contact with strangers or have brief eye contact and then they start to look away. Also, the interaction with surroundings is very less and they tend to confine themselves within themselves. Also, they make fewer movements so that they do not catch anyone's attention.

The study was carried out to check the movements of various people suffering from a social anxiety disorder. It was done in a naturalistic situation where they had to see a stranger. It was noticed that as the stranger entered the room some people made eye contact briefly and then the visual exploration of the environment became less. The reactions of people are very different and it is very difficult to pinpoint the exact symptoms of social anxiety disorder. This study also showed mixed findings which makes it more interesting. 

As the people have fear of social judgment there were two scenarios some people completely avoided the surroundings and other people. However, some focused their gaze on the surroundings, and people paid more attention to them. Also, there occurred a mixed approach where people focused or stay and at the surrounding for a stranger at first and then switched to avoiding. 

In this research, 30 students participated where they were seated in a seminar room with eye movement tracking glasses. They were well familiar with the researcher he left the room deliberately making an excuse. Then after a short while, a stranger entered the room. This is when the researcher was focused upon their eye movements. They emphasized people suffering from high social anxiety. But they noticed that people with both low social anxiety and high social anxiety avoided making eye contact with the new person. 

But students suffering from high social anxiety levels need brief eye contact with the stranger initially and then completely ignore him. The area or surrounding of the room was less which they scanned. It is similar to people in the lift who are standing near each other yet are unknown and avoid eye contact.

This study gives a mixed approach however it ensures that the people suffering from higher social anxiety avoid being in crowded places or surrounded by unknown people. Their restricted body movements and eye moments show that they avoid being judged or even noticed. This research shows that having continuous eye contact and then looking away is something that is not possible in a real-world environment. Instead, the people suffering from social anxiety have complete control over their gaze and limit their social interaction intentionally.


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