Enhancing the social experiences of adults who stutter: how translational eye tracking paradigms can illuminate and guide novel interventions for social anxiety
Background: With half of People Who Stutter (PWS) experiencing high levels of social anxiety, it is increasingly clear that Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) poses a frequent and grave threat to the wellbeing of stutterers. SAD not only harms quality of life and psychological health, it also erodes the effectiveness of speech therapy. The needs of PWS are nuanced and it remains essential to expand their options for social anxiety treatment. To this end, recent research suggests PWS demonstrate an avoidance of eye contact and positive cues in social situations; information processing biases that play a key role in the maintenance of SAD. Novel psychopharmacological and behavioural methods of ameliorating these attention biases include the neuropeptide Oxytocin and computer-administered Attention Bias Modification Training (ABMT).
Aims: Two RCTs were conducted to explore the capacity of Oxytocin and ABMT to ameliorate the attention biases of PWS in social situations, compared to respective placebos.
Methods: A novel eye tracking paradigm was employed to monitor the location and duration of eye contact made with the audience during an ecologically authentic ‘live’ speaking situation, followed by an assessment of downstream cognitive processes.
Results: No differences were observed between groups on measures of attention, memory, or anxiety.
Conclusions: Despite non-significant results, these findings illuminate several significant gaps in the theoretical foundations, functional conceptualization, and practical implementation of Oxytocin, ABMT, and eye tracking technologies in the context of interdisciplinary, translational research. Recommendations are made as to how future research might rectify these issues without abandoning the promise novel treatments for SAD.