Thursday, March 30, 2006

What Our Eyes Say - Social Anxiety and Math Problem Solving

Studying differences in the patterns that people gaze can provide interesting information about behaviors and information processing.

In the figure below, researchers found that adults diagnosed with social phobia were more likely to look away if looking at angry faces. The idea is that these folks may by hypervigilant to possible negative reactions by others.

In a very different study, other researchers were using visual scan path data to assess mathematical problem solving (and their mistakes) by students. The visual fixation map below shows a student who spent all his time looking at the verbal description (blue) rather than at the algebraic expression (red).

The study even incorporated a computer-based feedback system that prompt a student with a reminder to read the instructions carefully if too little time was spent on fixating on key words in the instructions. By itself, this was a pretty simple study, but the investigators also went on to identify patterns in scanpaths that changed as students learned material, and correlated these eye movements with fMRI. They conclude with the idea that although fMRI scanners will never be seen in the classroom, infrared technology such as this might have some future use for focusing instruction and identifying common student errors.

Social Phobia and Visual Scanpaths
Visual Tracking and Mathematics Problem Solving


  1. Anonymous5:07 AM

    My son who suffers from Social Phobia with total withdrawal from any social activity, used to hide behind the sofa as a child when there were any angry faces on Thomas The Tank Engine. Would this be the start or an indication of Social Phobia?

  2. It could have been, but this difference may also be reflected in temperamental differences (so a variation of the norm) for some people. And children with this sensitivity may outgrow it.

  3. Stress and some unpleasent experiences may lead to anxiety. Some natural anxiety remedies to look into are St.John's Wort, SAMe, L-Theanine, and Tryptophan. There's also cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and programs like Panic Away and The Linden Method, to name a few. Hope this helps!