Global and Local Processing in Social Anxiety

Cody, Meghan Wyndham, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Teachman, Bethany, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

This research investigates differences in the use of global and local information – seeing the forest versus the trees – in social anxiety. Theories of attentional narrowing in anxiety suggest that people with social anxiety will pay close attention to details in social situations. However, negative global self-impressions seem to play a more prominent role in information processing over time. The current project consists of two related studies that compare performance on global and local information processing tasks in individuals with or without social anxiety. The first study examines global versus local evaluations of public speaking performance in participants high (n = 43) or low (n = 47) in social anxiety symptoms. Participants gave a series of speeches and rated items reflecting global and local performance. After three days, participants repeated the ratings and completed a measure of post-event processing. Results showed that, as hypothesized, the high social anxiety group rated their performance more negatively than the low social anxiety group. Moreover, the high social anxiety group's ratings of global aspects of their performance became relatively more negative over time, compared to their ratings of local aspects and the low social anxiety group's ratings. Post-event processing mediated the relationship between social anxiety group and worsening global evaluations. The second study examines processing of local and global information in a social phobic sample (n = 37), compared to a non-phobic control group (n = 40), using the Deese-RoedigerMcDermott paradigm. Two perceptual tasks, a global/local reaction time task and the ReyOsterrieth Complex Figure Test, provided alternate measures of these effects. Contrary to expectations, there was no concordance between perceptual and conceptual measures of global/local processing. In the DRM task, social phobic participants anticipating a speech and control participants not anticipating a speech showed an increase in neutral false memories. The perceptual measures showed mixed results but indicated that social phobia may interfere with processing local information online and with processing global information in memory. iii Although these results provide some evidence for anxiety-related distortion of global information in memory, they also suggest that excessive local focus is not the mechanism.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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