Gelotophobes are typically characterized by the fear of laughter, social withdrawal, and humorlessness, possibly related to negative experiences of being laughed at in the past. The present study seeks to expand our understanding of gelotophobia through a relatively novel approach: using eye-tracking to investigate the attentional bias of gelotophobes and non-gelotophobes towards negative emotion words that do and do not contain the Chinese character for “laugh,” by comparing responses to negative ridicule words (RID), negative contempt words (CONT), positive pleasure words (PLE) and neutral words (NEU). Results of the start time of the first run of fixations showed that gelotophobes and non-gelotophobes both focused on negative words before other words. Gelotophobes’ attentional bias towards RID and CONT was greater than that of non-gelotophobes in first gaze duration, percentage of total viewing duration, total fixation count, and run count, suggesting that gelotophobes had greater difficulty in disengaging their attention from negative to neutral words. Non-gelotophobes’ attentional bias, however, towards negative ridicule neutral words (RID-NEU) and negative contempt neutral words (CONT-NEU) was greater than that of gelotophobes, suggesting that non-gelotophobes were more able to shift attention from negative to neutral words. Moreover, gelotophobes paid significantly more attention to RID than CONT, suggesting that gelotophobes displayed a longer and stronger attentional bias towards RID (containing the “laugh” character). Interestingly, there was no difference for PLE between gelotophobes and non-gelotophobes. The present study contributes to our understanding of the attentional bias of gelotophobes and non-gelotophobes towards emotion words.
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