How do social fears in adolescence develop? fear conditioning shapes attention orienting to social threat cues

Anneke D M Haddad, Shmuel Lissek, Daniel S. Pine, Jennifer Y F Lau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Social fears emerging in adolescence can have negative effects on emotional well-being. Yet the mechanisms by which these risks occur are unknown. One possibility is that associative learning results in fears to previously neutral social stimuli. Such conditioned responses may alter subsequent processing of social stimuli. We used a novel conditioning task to examine how associative processes influence social fear and attention orienting in adolescents. Neutral photographs were paired with socially rewarding or aversive stimuli during conditioning; a dot-probe task then assessed biases in attention orienting. The social conditioning task modified subjective ratings of the neutral stimuli. Moreover, for the neutral stimulus that was paired with the aversive stimulus, the strength of conditioning showed a relationship with subsequent attentional vigilance. The findings elucidate mechanisms by which negative peer experiences during adolescence may affect emotional processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1139-1147
Number of pages9
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Correspondence should be addressed to: Anneke D. M. Haddad, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3UD, UK. E-mail: This research was supported by a grant from the British Academy to JYFL. We thank Harvey Iwamoto and Michelle Goldwin for their help with the programming of the tasks; Carolyn Plateau and Phoebe Sanders for their help with data collection; and the schools and participants for their cooperation.


  • Adolescence
  • Attentional biases
  • Fear conditioning
  • Social anxiety

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