Background and objectives: A growing body of research has shown that negative, intrusive mental imagery plays a prevalent and causal role in social anxiety, and is qualitatively different to voluntarily generated imagery. Negative imagery can be reduced in vividness and emotional intensity through concurrent lateral eye movements (EMs) as per Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Despite EMDR being used for a range of disorders, previous laboratorybased experimental research typically uses voluntarily generated autobiographical memories rather than involuntarily experienced intrusive images. In a pilot study, we investigated the efficacy of eye movement attenuation of negative, intrusive, socialanxiety imagery. Methods: Twenty-seven participants (aged 18-29, 20 females) screened for social anxiety using the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale and who experienced intrusive imagery visualised their image while making eye movements or completing a control task. Self-report ratings of image vividness and emotionality were taken at baseline, immediately after the tasks, and following a post-test visualisation of their image. Results: Vividness reduced from baseline during the eye movements task, but not the control task, and vividness was lower at post-test in the EMs condition than in the control condition. This effect was not observed for emotionality. Limitations: As a pilot study, the sample size was small and so replication on a larger scale is warranted. Conclusions: EMs may prevent increases in vividness as a result of exposure to intrusive imagery. These findings tentatively suggest a promising extension of the topical eye movements paradigm to intrusive social anxiety images, and potential justification for EMDR intervention outside of PTSD.



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Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry



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School of Psychology


EMDR, Eye movements, Intrusive imagery, Mental imagery, Social anxiety, Working memory