The relationship between avoidant personality disorder and social phobia.
ABSTRACT The main explanatory hypothesis for the distinction between social phobia (SP) and avoidant personality disorder (APD) has been the severity continuum hypothesis, stating that APD only differs from SP in terms of severity of dysfunction and symptomatic distress, that is, social anxiety and depressive symptoms. This study aimed at a comprehensive evaluation of this hypothesis in a large sample (n = 2192) of thoroughly assessed patients, most of whom had a diagnosis of personality disorder. Social phobia was stronger associated with APD than with other personality disorders, and APD was stronger associated with SP than with other symptom disorders. Social phobia-pure patients had a higher level of global functioning and lower levels of general symptom distress and interpersonal problems than APD-pure patients. The 2 groups were similar on domains that pertain to social anxiety and introversion, but APD was associated with a broader array of symptoms and interpersonal problems and was substantially lower on the personality domain of conscientiousness. Avoidant personality disorder was stronger associated with eating disorders, and SP was stronger associated with panic disorder. The APD diagnosis seems to capture a broader constellation of symptoms and personality features pointing toward more severe personality dysfunction. Our findings suggest that the severity continuum hypothesis lacks specificity and exploratory power to account for both similarities and differences between SP and APD.
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ABSTRACT: Background Avoidant personality disorder is characterized by pervasive anxiety, fear of criticism, disapproval, and rejection, particularly in anticipation of exposure to social situations. An important but underexplored question concerns whether anxiety in avoidant patients is associated with an impaired ability to engage emotion regulatory strategies in anticipation of and during appraisal of negative social stimuli. Methods We examined the use of an adaptive emotion regulation strategy, cognitive reappraisal, in avoidant patients. In addition to assessing individual differences in state and trait anxiety levels, self-reported affect as well as measures of neural activity were compared between 17 avoidant patients and 21 healthy control participants both in anticipation of and during performance of a reappraisal task. Results Avoidant patients showed greater state and trait-related anxiety relative to healthy participants. In addition, relative to healthy participants, avoidant patients showed pronounced amygdala hyper-reactivity during reappraisal anticipation, and this hyper-reactivity effect was positively associated with increasing self-reported anxiety levels. Limitations Our finding of exaggerated amygdala activity during reappraisal anticipation could reflect anxiety about the impending need to reappraise, anxiety about the certainty of an upcoming negative image, or anxiety relating to anticipated scrutiny of task responses by the experimenters. While we believe that all of these possibilities are consistent with the phenomenology of avoidant personality disorder, future research may clarify this ambiguity. Conclusions These results suggest that amygdala reactivity in anticipation of receiving negative social information may represent a key component of the neural mechanisms underlying the heightened anxiety present in avoidant patients.Journal of Affective Disorders 02/2015; 172:1–7. · 3.71 Impact Factor
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