Author Information

Allison S. Bernique


The goal of the current project was to replicate and extend research on the spotlight effect, a term used to describe the feeling of being the focus of others’ attention (Gilovich, Medvec, & Savitsky, 2000). The spotlight effect has been linked to social anxiety, or the fear of negative social evaluation and scrutiny (Lipton, Weeks, Daruwala, & Reyes, 2016); however, there is little literature on how the spotlight effect might be linked to distorted perceptions of others’ gaze direction (averted or direct). To address this gap in the literature, methods and materials from research on social anxiety, the spotlight effect, and eye gaze were combined. Participants completed measures of social anxiety, rated faces in a reaction time paradigm, and responded to vignettes that described typical, but mildly uncomfortable, social situations. Half of the participants completed the study in a darkened room with no researcher present, and half completed the same study with overhead lights on and a researcher present. The hypothesis that being observed by a researcher would prime the spotlight effect, particularly in those who scored higher in social anxiety, was supported. The effect was strongest in responses to vignettes, where trait self-consciousness of observed participants predicted the degree to which they felt attention and a spotlight would be on them, and that they would be obligated to represent their in-group. There was less support for the hypothesis that judgments of eye gaze would be similarly biased by researcher observation.

Note on the Author

Allison Bernique graduated from Bridgewater State University with a degree in Psychology and Criminal Justice in May of 2019. Her research project was completed in the Summer of 2018 under the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Spievak (Psychology) and made possible with funding provided by the Adrian Tinsley Program for Undergraduate Research summer grant. Allison presented this project at the 2019 National Anxiety and Depression Conference (ADAA) in Chicago, Illinois. Allison is currently working at Boston Children’s Hospital as a researcher in the division of Endocrinology while exploring options for graduate school.

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