Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only

Degree Name

Bachelors of Science (BS)




Cheryl Dickter

Committee Members

Joshua Burk

Robin Looft-Wilson


The social avoidance behaviors exhibited by individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) closely resemble phenotypes of social anxiety disorder (SAD), a condition often comorbid with ASD. The purpose of this study was to test whether participants varying in traits related to autism and social anxiety experience an attentional bias related to positive and negative images depicting social and non-social scenes. In Study 1, undergraduate students (n = 147) completed a dot probe task of positive, negative, and neutral scenes. In Study 2, undergraduate participants (n = 148) completed an online dot probe task, only showing positive and negative scenes. All participants completed the Social Phobia and Anxiety Inventory (SPAI) and Autism Quotient (AQ). Recorded response times were then analyzed which reflect potential attentional biases to the different conditions and the relationship to the completed questionnaires. Results from Study 1 show that when the non-target had a person there was a significant correlation such that participants with more social anxiety showed more attentional bias when there were negative targets depicting people; however, there were no significant effects associated with measures of autistic behaviors. Results from Study 2 demonstrated that negative and social scenes have longer latencies in relationship to autistic and socially anxious traits, but group findings differed. Study 2 showed differences in high and low anxiety groups, such that those with less traits showed an attentional bias toward negative images in social trials but positive images in non-social trials, while those high in anxious traits had an attentional bias to negative scenes in both social and non-social trials. No group differences were found in relationship to autistic traits. Overall, the studies elucidate differing attentional bias mechanisms between traits related to autism and social anxiety.

On-Campus Access Only