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Overprotective Parenting, Social Anxiety, and External Locus of Control: Cross-sectional and Longitudinal Relationships

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A relationship between social anxiety and a parenting style marked by overprotection and low warmth has been repeatedly demonstrated (e.g., Bruch et al. in Anxiety Reaserch 2:57–65, 1989; Lieb et al. in Arch Gen Psychiatry 57:859–866, 2000). The current study supports the findings in the broader literature of a significant relationship between social anxiety and recollections of overprotective and cold parenting among college students. External locus of control partially mediated the relationship between overprotective parenting and social anxiety. However, these analyses used cross-sectional data, and an alternate mediational model was also significant, highlighting the various ways in which these factors interact. Finally, recollections of maternal overprotection predicted an increase in social anxiety during the first semester of college, suggesting their influence on current functioning.
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ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Overprotective Parenting, Social Anxiety, and External Locus
of Control: Cross-sectional and Longitudinal Relationships
Megan Spokas Æ Richard G. Heimberg
Published online: 30 December 2008
Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008
Abstract A relationship between social anxiety and a
parenting style marked by overprotection and low warmth
has been repeatedly demonstrated (e.g., Bruch et al. in
Anxiety Reaserch 2:57–65, 1989; Lieb et al. in Arch Gen
Psychiatry 57:859–866, 2000). The current study supports
the findings in the broader literature of a significant
relationship between social anxiety and recollections of
overprotective and cold parenting among college students.
External locus of control partially mediated the relationship
between overprotective parenting and social anxiety.
However, these analyses used cross-sectional data, and an
alternate mediational model was also significant, high-
lighting the various ways in which these factors interact.
Finally, recollections of maternal overprotection predicted
an increase in social anxiety during the first semester of
college, suggesting their influence on current functioning.
Keywords Social anxiety Parenting Locus of control
Mediator
Introduction
Social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) is
characterized by fear and avoidance of social situations,
accompanied by excessive preoccupation with fears of
rejection, criticism, or embarrassment. The parent–child
relationship appears to be one contributor to the develop-
ment and/or maintenance of child social anxiety. A
relationship between social anxiety and a parenting style
marked by overprotection (or high control) and low
warmth has been repeatedly demonstrated in various age
groups and within both clinical and developmental areas of
psychological study (e.g., Bruch et al. 1989; Greco and
Morris 2002; Lieb et al. 2000; also see reviews by Rapee
1997; Wood et al. 2003).
Despite the relative consistency of findings, there has
been a lack of attention to potential mediators of the
relationship between parenting and social anxiety. Previous
research has provided some indications of potential medi-
ators, but much of this research has been conducted in child
samples and has not specifically examined social anxiety.
For example, Chorpita et al. (1998) demonstrated that locus
of control mediates the relationship between a controlling
parenting style and child anxiety. Locus of control is a
widely studied construct and can be defined as the degree
to which an individual expects an outcome of behavior to
be contingent upon his/her own behavior (internal) versus
the control of others, determined by chance, or completely
unpredictable (external; Rotter 1990). Chorpita and col-
leagues assessed a mixed clinical and nonclinical sample of
93 children and their families; 63 children met criteria for
an anxiety disorder, dysthymia, or major depression. The
relationship between a controlling family environment (as
reported by the parent and child) and the child’s negative
affect (a composite of child and parent reports of the
Portions of this paper were presented at the 41st annual meeting of the
Association for Behavior and Cognitive Therapies, Philadelphia, PA,
November 2007.
M. Spokas (&)
Psychopathology Research Unit, Department of Psychiatry,
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA
e-mail: mspokas@mail.med.upenn.edu
R. G. Heimberg
Adult Anxiety Clinic of Temple, Department of Psychology,
Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA
123
Cogn Ther Res (2009) 33:543–551
DOI 10.1007/s10608-008-9227-5
child’s anxiety and depression) and clinical symptoms
(assessed by a clinical interviewer) was mediated by the
child’s reported locus of control. The authors suggested
that a controlling family environment leads to the devel-
opment of external locus of control in the child, which is
then related to the child’s negative affect and clinical
symptoms. These data were cross-sectional, so this con-
clusion is speculative. However, an alternative model was
also tested in which a controlling family environment and
locus of control both independently contributed to negative
affect and clinical symptoms, but this model provided a
poor fit to the data.
As a follow-up to the Chorpita et al. (1998) study, at least
two other investigations of perceived control as a mediator
between parenting and anxiety have been conducted. Muris
et al. (2004) examined perceived control as a mediator and/
or moderator of the relationship between perceived child-
rearing behaviors and anxiety and depressive symptoms in a
sample of 167 non-clinical pre-adolescents. There was no
support for perceived control as a mediator of the rela-
tionship between depressive or anxiety symptoms and
perceived parenting (including anxious rearing, overpro-
tection, emotional warmth, and rejection). Furthermore,
there was little support for moderation effects, with the
exception that perceived control moderated the relationship
between anxious rearing and anxiety symptoms. Specifi-
cally, the combination of high perceived control and low
anxious rearing was associated with the lowest levels of
anxiety. Therefore, the findings of Chorpita and others were
not replicated in this older, non-clinical sample.
However, the findings of Ballash et al. (2006) were
consistent with those of Chorpita et al. (1998). Their
sample was comprised of undergraduate students, and the
investigation specifically examined perceived control over
anxiety symptoms as a mediator and/or moderator of the
relationship between family environment and physiological
symptoms of anxiety. There was little support for perceived
control of anxiety symptoms as a moderator of the rela-
tionship between family functioning and anxiety; however,
the mediational models were supported. Specifically, a
family environment marked by affective involvement and
behavioral control (which is likely related to parental
overprotection) predicted one’s sense of control over anx-
iety symptoms, which then contributed to anxiety.
Thus, the role of locus of control as a mediator of the
relationship between overprotective parenting and anxiety
is not yet clear. The primary aim of the current study was to
study external locus of control as a partial mediator of the
relationship between recollections of overprotective par-
enting and social anxiety in particular. Partial mediation
was hypothesized because other plausible variables may
also mediate the relationship between parenting and social
anxiety, such as parental modeling of anxious and avoidant
behavior and/or the development of other dysfunctional
thinking patterns, such as negative interpretation bias. A
parenting style specifically marked by overprotection was
chosen as the parenting variable for these analyses since
parental overprotection is the construct most similar to the
factors that have received support as potential mediators in
the existing literature (e.g., the controlling parenting style
assessed in Chorpita et al. 1998; affective involvement and
behavioral control assessed in Ballash et al. 2006). In
addition, several studies have illustrated that parents of
children with internal locus of control are more likely to
reward and encourage autonomy and independence (e.g.,
Gordon et al. 1981, see Carton and Nowicki 1994 for a
review). Therefore, external locus of control is expected to
specifically relate to an overprotective parenting style.
The current investigation, like its predecessors, used
a cross-sectional design and cannot establish temporal
primacy of the mediator in question. However, additional
analyses can be conducted to rule out other, equally
plausible models. For example, when considering the
relationship between overprotective parenting, locus of
control, and social anxiety, there are several possible
developmental pathways. The model including control as a
mediator implies that external locus of control develops as
a result of parental overprotection in one’s early environ-
ment and then leads to higher levels of social anxiety.
However, an alternative mediational model is also pro-
posed in which the relationship between external locus of
control and social anxiety is mediated by overprotective
parenting. For example, the child holds an assumption that
the outcomes of behavior are determined by others or
chance. This cognitive style leads to certain behaviors,
such as clinging to parents for protection, which results in
greater overprotection and control on the part of the par-
ents. The parents’ reaction to increase protection serves to
both reinforce the child’s belief in external control and
increase social anxiety. Therefore, to conduct a more
thorough examination of these relationships, both media-
tional models were tested in the current study. Although
temporal primacy of the measured variables cannot be
determined, support for one model over the other may
provide information about the more likely pathway of
development.
Finally, the current study had one additional aim.
Whereas the relationships between social anxiety and
recollections of parenting are noteworthy, the prospective,
predictive value of parenting recollections is also of
interest. Therefore, the current study examined how well
students’ recollections of overprotective parenting behav-
iors prospectively predicted an increase in social anxiety in
a socially stressful situation (e.g., beginning college).
Overprotection was again chosen as the parenting dimen-
sion of interest in these analyses given that parental
544 Cogn Ther Res (2009) 33:543–551
123
overprotection can decrease one’s independence and
autonomy, factors that are often central in the develop-
mental transition of beginning college.
To summarize, the current study examined the following
hypotheses in a non-clinical, undergraduate sample: (1)
higher levels of social anxiety were expected to be asso-
ciated with recollections of lower parental warmth and
more parental overprotection; (2) external locus of control
1
was expected to partially mediate the relationship between
parental overprotection and social anxiety; and (3) recol-
lections of high parental overprotection were expected to
predict an increase in social anxiety when the students
began college.
Method
Participants
Participants included 923 students enrolled in an Intro-
ductory Psychology course at a large, urban university. The
mean age of the sample was 19.7 (SD = 0.96), and the
majority of the participants were female (74.7%) and
Caucasian (62.5%). In terms of ethnicity, the remaining
participants classified themselves as African-American
(16.3%), Asian (11.3%), Hispanic (2.9%), mixed race or
‘other’ race (7.0%). In terms of living situation, most
reported that they lived on campus (58.4%), whereas
24.6% reported living with a parent, 15.3% reported living
off campus with friends, and 1.7% reported some other
type of living situation. Approximately 33% of the par-
ticipants reported that their parents were divorced.
A subsample of the participants also completed a mea-
sure of social anxiety prior to attending their first semester
of college. Five hundred and four incoming students were
contacted, and 265 (52.6%) of those contacted completed
the online survey during the summer before their matric-
ulation. The majority of these students were female
(77.7%) and Caucasian (63.8%). The remaining partici-
pants classified themselves as African-American (16.2%),
Asian (9.1%), Hispanic (2.6%), mixed race or ‘‘other’’ race
(8.3%). Of the 265 students who participated in the sum-
mer, 166 (62.6%) also participated in the larger study in the
fall semester. Those who participated in the larger study
differed from those who did not participate in terms of
ethnicity, v
2
(5, N = 264) = 13.64, p = .02. A greater
percentage of those who participated in the larger study
were Caucasian, 71.4 vs. 50.5%, v
2
(1, N = 265) = 11.64,
p = .001, and a lower percentage of those who participated
were African-American, 11.9% vs. 23.7%, v
2
(1, N =
265) = 6.31, p = .01. Groups did not differ in percentages
of Asian, v
2
(1, N = 265) = 2.04, p = .15, Hispanic, v
2
(1, N = 265) = 1.31, p = .25, or mixed/other race, v
2
(1, N = 265) = 0.38, p = .54, participants. There were
also group differences in terms of gender; a larger per-
centage of females participated in the larger study, 81.5 vs.
71.1%, v
2
(1, N = 265) = 3.83, p = .05.
Procedure
Students participated in the main study by signing up
through an online research administration system. Prior
to participation, potential participants were asked to read
the informed consent form and use the computer system
to agree to the conditions. Thereafter, students were
asked to provide demographic information and complete
an online battery of questionnaires (see below for a
description of measures). Students were provided with a
debriefing statement, including a list of community
resources for counseling services, following completion
of the online study. Students logged in to the system
using their university email address and received
research credits for their course after completing the
questionnaires. The online system ensured that each
university email address could only be used once to
complete the battery of questionnaires, and non-univer-
sity email addresses were not permitted to gain access to
the system.
In addition, a subsample of students was contacted via
email prior to attending their first semester and asked to
complete a brief questionnaire online. In August 2006,
incoming freshman students were selected to be contacted
via email if they were registered for Introductory Psy-
chology in the fall semester, the upcoming semester was
their first semester at the university, and they were 20 years
old or younger. The age restriction served to best charac-
terize a group of late adolescents who were recently living
at home before attending college, and to minimize the
recall bias of parenting practices. Incoming students were
contacted with instructions on how to complete a brief
demographic questionnaire and a 20-item measure of social
anxiety (Social Interaction Anxiety Scale, Mattick and
Clarke 1998) via the internet. Participants in this phase of
data collection were entered into a drawing for a $25
bookstore gift certificate. One gift certificate was awarded
for every 50 participants. These participants received a
second email early in the fall semester to inform them of
the main study and provide them with instructions for
accessing the study online.
1
Planned analyses also included the examination of negative
interpretation bias as a potential mediator of the relationship between
overprotective parenting and social anxiety. However, problems with
the completion of the interpretation bias measure resulted in a large
amount of missing data (35.2%) and precluded our ability to complete
these analyses.
Cogn Ther Res (2009) 33:543–551 545
123
Measures
The Social Interaction Anxiety Scale (SIAS; Mattick and
Clarke 1998) assesses anxiety in dyads and groups. The
SIAS consists of 20 items which are scored on a 5-point
Likert-type rating scale ranging from 0 (Not at all char-
acteristic or true of me)to4(Extremely characteristic or
true of me). The SIAS has demonstrated strong internal
consistency in clinical, community and undergraduate
samples (as range from .88 to .94), and a strong test–retest
correlation has been reported in a sample of undergraduates
(Heimberg et al. 1992). Furthermore, Mattick and Clarke
(1998) demonstrated that scores on the SIAS correlated
well with other established measures of social anxiety but
had low or nonsignificant correlations with measures of
depression, state and trait anxiety, locus of control, and
social desirability, when accounting for fears of negative
evaluation. Others have reported no gender differences in
undergraduates’ responses to the SIAS (Heimberg et al.
1992; Osman et al. 1998). In the current investigation, the
SIAS demonstrated strong internal consistency at both
administrations (as = .86, .90).
The Parental Bonding Instrument (PBI; Parker et al.
1979) is a measure of perceived parental care and over-
protection. The PBI consists of 25 items that represent
various attitudes and behaviors of parents, and respondents
were asked to rate each item on how descriptive the
attitude or behavior was of their parent during the
respondents’ first 16 years of life. The PBI is composed of
two subscales: Care and Overprotection. Items are rated on
a 4-point Likert-type scale ranging from very like’’ t o
‘‘ very unlike.’ Separate ratings are made for the mother
and the father. High internal consistency for both subscales
has been demonstrated in clinical and non-clinical samples
(as ranging from .83 to .91; Arrindell et al. 1989; Brewin
et al. 1992). Adequate test–retest reliability has also been
demonstrated in an undergraduate sample (3 months,
r = .86 for Care, r = .85 for Overprotection; Whisman
and Kwon 1992) and a clinical sample (9 weeks, r = .87
for Care, r = .92 for Overprotection; Parker 1981). It is
noteworthy that within the clinical sample, the second
administration occurred when the individuals were feeling
less depressed, suggesting that recollections of parenting
are not entirely dependent on current mood. In the current
study, strong internal consistency was demonstrated for
ratings of maternal and paternal behavior on both the Care
and Overprotection subscales (as ranged from .87 to .94).
Memories of My Parents’ Upbringing is the English
translation of the Egna Minuen Betraffande Uppfostram
scale (EMBU; Perris et al. 1980), an inventory used to
assess memories of parental rearing behavior. The English
version has been shown to be highly comparable to the
original Swedish version, in terms of reliability (as range
from .51 to .87), item-scale correlations (rs range from .35
to .85), and factor structure (Ross et al. 1982). The English
measure is comprised of four factors: Rejection, Emotional
Warmth, Overprotection, and Favoring Subject. The
Emotional Warmth and Overprotection subscales were
used in the current study. Items describe parental behavior,
and respondents were asked to rate the behavior on a
4-point Likert-type scale, from It never occurred’’ t o ‘‘ It
was always so,’ with separate ratings for maternal and
paternal behavior. In the current study, moderate to strong
internal consistency was demonstrated for the Emotional
Warmth and Overprotection subscales for ratings of both
mother and father behavior (as ranged from .75 to .94).
The Multidimensional Locus of Control Scale (MLCS;
Levenson 1973) is a measure designed to assess three
dimensions of locus of control. Levenson’s multidimen-
sional model is an expansion of Rotter’s model of internal
and external locus of control, which posits that those who
view reinforcements as contingent on their own behavior
(internal) are better adjusted than those who view rein-
forcements as determined by fate, chance, or powerful
others (external). Rather than assessing only internal versus
external locus of control, the MLCS contains three scales
to distinguish beliefs in chance or fate from beliefs in
powerful others. This original factor structure has been
replicated with no item overlap (Levenson 1981; Walkey
1979). Furthermore, a study with anxious adults indicated
that considering the multidimensionality of control can be
useful in determining control recollections that are unique
to certain anxiety disorders. For example, individuals with
social anxiety disorder tended to view events as controlled
by powerful others, whereas those with panic disorder
viewed events as random and uncontrollable (Cloitre et al.
1992). The MLCS consists of 24 attitude statements, and
the respondent rates the extent to which he/she agrees with
the statement. Statements are rated on a 6-point Likert-
type scale, ranging from agree strongly’’ t o ‘‘ disagree
strongly.’ In clinical samples, the MLCS demonstrated
moderate to strong internal consistency (Internal, as range
from .67 to .77, Powerful Others, as range from .72 to .82,
Chance, as range from .69 to .79; Cloitre et al. 1992; Le-
venson 1973). In the current study, there was good internal
consistency for the Chance and Powerful Others subscales
(as = .77, .79), whereas a for the Internal subscale was
lower (.61). Based on previous findings (Cloitre et al.
1992), it was expected that the Powerful Others subscale
would be more strongly related to social anxiety than the
Chance subscale. However, in the current study, the rela-
tionships between social anxiety and these two subscales
were equivalent (SIAS and Powerful Others, q = .31,
p \.01; SIAS and Chance, q = .27, p \ .01). Therefore,
both scales were utilized and combined into a single index
of external locus of control.
546 Cogn Ther Res (2009) 33:543–551
123
Results
Relationships between Social Anxiety
and Recollections of Parenting
Ratings of social anxiety, external locus of control, and
recollections of parental warmth and overprotection are
presented in Table 1. Approximately 13% of the partici-
pants could be classified as reporting clinically severe
social anxiety, using the cut-off score of 34 on the SIAS
(recommended by Heimberg et al. 1992). As expected, the
distributions of the recollections of parental warmth were
negatively skewed, with most students reporting high lev-
els of parental warmth. However, 17% of individuals
scored one standard deviation below the mean on each of
the measures of maternal warmth (17.0% on PBI maternal
Care and 17.0% on maternal Emotional Warmth), and
approximately 15% scored in this range on the measures of
paternal warmth (15.4% on PBI paternal Care and 14.7%
on EMBU paternal Emotional Warmth). The distributions
of recollections of parental overprotection were positively
skewed as expected, with 16.0% of the sample scoring one
standard deviation above the mean on PBI maternal
Overprotection and 13.3% scoring in this range on the
EMBU maternal Overprotection. Similar rates were found
for reports of paternal overprotection: 16.6% of the sample
scored one standard deviation above the mean on PBI
paternal Overprotection, and 12.0% scored in this range on
EMBU paternal Overprotection.
Correlations between the parenting measures were
examined to determine if subscales could be combined to
form composite measures of the constructs. Composite
measures were preferred in order to use the most
comprehensive representation of the underlying construct,
as well as reduce the number of statistical tests. A non-
parametric correlation coefficient (Spearman’s q) was used
to account for the non-normal distributions of the majority
of subscales. When forming composite scores, subscales
were transformed to standardized scores and then summed.
The following composites were formed: Maternal Warmth
(PBI maternal Care, EMBU maternal Emotional Warmth;
q = .75, p \ .01), Paternal Warmth (PBI paternal Care,
EMBU paternal Emotional Warmth; q = .81, p \ .01),
Maternal Overprotection (PBI maternal Overprotection,
EMBU maternal Overprotection; q = .75, p \.01), and
Paternal Overprotection (PBI paternal Overprotection and
EMBU paternal Overprotection; q = .81, p
\ .01).
Composite scores of warmth and overprotection, as well
as social anxiety scores were not normally distributed, so
the relationships between the variables were examined
using the non-parametric Spearman’s q coefficient. Cor-
relations between the ratings of social anxiety, external
locus of control, and composite parenting measures are
presented in Table 2. When examining the relationship
between social anxiety and maternal and paternal warmth,
a Bonferroni correction was used (.05/2 = .025). Social
anxiety was significantly related to both Maternal Warmth
and Paternal Warmth. The same correction was used
(p = .025) when examining the relationship between social
anxiety and maternal and paternal overprotection. There
were significant positive relationships between social
anxiety and Maternal Overprotection and Paternal
Overprotection.
Mediational Models
External locus of control was examined as a partial medi-
ator of the relationship between social anxiety and parental
overprotection using a bootstrap procedure (Preacher and
Hayes 2004). The bootstrap procedure was chosen over the
commonly used method outlined by Baron and Kenny
Table 1 Ratings of social anxiety, external locus of control, and
recollections of parenting behavior
MSDRange
SIAS Total 22.12 10.21 0–63
MLCS, Chance 29.91 6.90 8–48
MLCS, Powerful Others 30.85 6.98 8–48
PBI, maternal Care 28.36 7.49 0–36
PBI, maternal Overprotection 13.83 7.84 0–39
PBI, paternal Care 23.81 9.47 0–36
PBI, paternal Overprotection 12.01 7.82 0–38
EMBU, maternal Emotional Warmth 37.05 10.81 0–55
EMBU, maternal Overprotection 15.39 5.76 0–35
EMBU, paternal Emotional Warmth 32.91 13.33 0–55
EMBU, paternal Overprotection 13.40 5.88 0–36
Note: SIAS, Social Interaction Anxiety Scale; MLCS, Multidimen-
sional Locus of Control Scale; PBI, Parental Bonding Instrument;
EMBU, Egna Minuen Betraffande Uppfostram (Memories of My
Parents’ Upbringing)
Table 2 Spearman’s q correlation coefficients between reports of
social anxiety, external locus of control, and composite measures of
parenting behavior
Measure 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1. SIAS total -.22 .25 -.18 .21 .27 .31
2. Maternal Warmth -.35 .50 -.22 -.28 -.22
3. Maternal Overprotection -.21 .50 .26 .24
4. Paternal Warmth -.20 -.19 -.17
5. Paternal Overprotection .20 .19
6. MLCS, Chance .60
7. MLCS, Powerful Others
Note: SIAS, social interaction anxiety scale; MLCS, multidimensional
locus of control scale. All p values \ .001
Cogn Ther Res (2009) 33:543–551 547
123
(1986) which typically includes the use of Sobel’s test
(Sobel 1982) to evaluate the significance of the indirect
effect. Sobel’s test assumes that the sampling distribution
of the indirect effect (ab) is normally distributed, yet this
assumption has been questioned (Bollen and Stine 1990;
Preacher and Hayes 2004). An alternative approach is to
bootstrap the sampling distribution of ab and derive a
confidence interval using the empirically derived boot-
strapped sampling distribution. This represents a non-
parametric approach to hypothesis testing that makes no
assumption about the shape of the distribution. Bootstrap-
ping is suggested as a way to avoid the power problems
associated with non-normality in the sampling distribution
(Preacher and Hayes 2004; Shrout and Bolger 2002). The
SPSS macro for bootstrapping written by Preacher and
Hayes (2004) was used. The output provides the 95%
confidence interval of the indirect effect. If zero is not
included in the confidence interval, the effect is assumed to
be significant. Because maternal and paternal overprotec-
tion composite scores were strongly correlated, these
scores were standardized and summed to create a ‘‘parental
overprotection’ variable. The overall model including
parental overprotection as the independent variable was
significant: R
2
= .13, F (2, 745) = 54.41, p \ .001, and
the indirect effect on social anxiety through external locus
of control (corrected 95% CI = .25–.54) was also
significant.
Because the current data are cross-sectional and cannot
establish causality, another plausible model was tested. In
the alternative mediational model, the relationship between
external locus of control and social anxiety is mediated by
overprotective parenting. The overall model testing
parental overprotection as a mediator of the relationship
between external locus of control and social anxiety was
significant, R
2
= .13, F (2, 745) = 54.41, p \ .001, and
the indirect effect of external locus of control on social
anxiety through parental overprotection was significant
(corrected 95% CI =-.07 to -.03).
2
Predicting Change in Social Anxiety
In the subsample of 166 participants, social anxiety was
assessed in the summer prior to the first semester of college
(M = 19.54, SD = 11.04) and again during the first
semester (M = 23.08, SD = 10.54). Scores obtained dur-
ing the first semester were significantly higher than those
obtained during the summer, t (165) = 5.33, p \ .001. To
test if student reports of parental overprotection could
predict changes in student social anxiety during the stu-
dent’s first semester at college, the SIAS score obtained
during the first semester was used as the dependent vari-
able, and the SIAS score obtained during the previous
summer was entered in the first step of a regression model,
followed by recollections of maternal and paternal over-
protection at the second step. The overall regression model
was significant, R
2
= .42, F (3, 140) = 41.78, p \ .001.
After controlling for pre-college social anxiety scores,
student ratings of higher maternal overprotection were
associated with an increase in social anxiety during the first
semester (DR
2
= .06, p = .001; b = .17, p = .02),
whereas student rating of paternal overprotection was a
nonsignificant predictor of increased social anxiety
(b = .10, p = .16).
3
Discussion
A large body of research has examined the relationship
between recollections of parenting and social anxiety. The
current study supported the findings in the literature, as
college students’ reports of social anxiety were associated
with ratings of low parental warmth and high parental
overprotection. In addition, the relationship between
recollections of parental overprotection during childhood
and social anxiety was partially explained by a cognitive
style in which an individual expects the outcomes of his/
her behavior to be contingent upon the control of others,
determined by chance, or completely unpredictable. This
model suggests one possible mechanism responsible for
such a relationship between parenting and social anxiety.
Overprotective parenting contributes to the development of
a cognitive style in which an individual believes that out-
comes are largely determined by external factors. This
cognitive style may develop as a result of the control
exerted over the child by the parent or because overpro-
tection may interfere with the child’s acquisition of
necessary social skills, leaving the child feeling out of
control when presented with social demands. It is the
expectation that one’s behavior is controlled by external
forces that then serves to increase social anxiety. This
model is in line with several cognitive theories (Beck 1967;
Chorpita and Barlow 1998) that suggest early parent–child
interactions contribute to the development of cognitive
biases, as well as experimental studies illustrating that
reported deficits in parental care are associated with
2
Only a subsample of respondents who provided both reports of
maternal and paternal overprotection is included (n = 748) in the
mediator analyses examining the composite of ‘parental overprotec-
tion.’ However, analyses were also conducted examining maternal
and paternal overprotection separately, and these findings were
identical to the overall findings presented.
3
Because the analyses conducted separately for maternal and
paternal overprotection produced different results, the analysis
including the overall ‘parental overprotection’ variable is not
presented, although it did produce a significant change in R
2
.
548 Cogn Ther Res (2009) 33:543–551
123
negative cognitive processing (e.g., Ingram and Ritter
2000; Taylor and Alden 2006). The current results support
the possibility of this causal pathway, but the cross-sec-
tional nature of the data only allow for speculation about
the timeframe in which the various factors exert their
influence.
To address some of these concerns, an additional
mediational model was also tested, and this model was also
significant, suggesting that social anxiety, parenting, and
external locus of control influence each other in various
ways. For example, a child may hold beliefs about out-
comes being controlled by others. As the child’s external
locus of control increases, his/her reliance on parents may
increase, which could contribute to parents increasing their
control and protection. Reinforcing such beliefs through
overprotection may serve to increase the child’s social
anxiety and may also increase the child’s avoidance. These
models, in which overprotection mediates the relationship
between social anxiety and external locus of control
highlight the importance of considering equifinality (Cic-
chetti and Rogosch 1996) in testing developmental models.
Longitudinal designs that begin assessment in early child-
hood and establish temporal ordering of these factors will
ultimately be needed for the identification of the most
plausible mechanisms of the observed relationship between
social anxiety and overprotective parenting. In addition, it
is also important to note that these mediation models are
likely not specific to social anxiety, as a large body of
literature illustrates the associations of various parenting
variables with anxiety and depression. For example, recent
meta-analyses have illustrated that high parental control is
associated with various forms of child anxiety (McLeod
et al. 2007a), and parental control and rejection are asso-
ciated with child depression (McLeod et al. 2007b).
Finally, recollections of parenting were examined in
terms of how much they actually influence current func-
tioning and experiences of social anxiety in a new, socially
demanding situation (beginning college). Although little
support was found for the predictive value of paternal
overprotection, recollections of maternal overprotection
significantly predicted an increase in social anxiety during
the first semester of college. Therefore, those who recall
maternal overprotection appear to be at risk for increased
anxiety when beginning college, perhaps due to an
increased perception of threat or decreased sense of con-
trol. Furthermore, maternal overprotection emerged as a
significant predictor, despite the strong correlation between
social anxiety in the summer and social anxiety in the first
semester. Taken together, the findings suggest that recol-
lections of maternal overprotection predict increases in
social anxiety.
There were several methodological strengths of the
current study. The use of a large student sample provided
adequate statistical power necessary to test the mediational
models. The examination of two possible mediational
models is also a strength of the study, as the alternative
model has yet to be considered in other investigations.
Inclusion of the alternative model was informative as the
findings revealed two possible developmental pathways
involving overprotective parenting, locus of control, and
social anxiety.
Yet, there are also several limitations to the current
study. The findings are based on self-reports, which may be
subject to memory bias and/or distortion based on symp-
tomatology. In addition, the self-reports were administered
through an online computer system and therefore were
completed under less controlled conditions than prior
research. The effects of this form of report administration
are unknown at this time. There was also a noteworthy
response bias in students who decided to participate in the
study during the first semester of college. Therefore, how
well these particular findings generalize to all college
students is yet to be determined. Furthermore, the reports
were cross-sectional, so information about temporal pri-
macy is lacking. Finally, although the distribution of the
social anxiety scores indicated a significant portion of the
sample experienced social anxiety in the clinical range,
the applicability of the mediational models to clinical
samples is unknown and deserves further attention.
Extension of such findings to clinical samples could inform
treatment strategies. For example, if both models are also
significant in children or adults seeking treatment for social
anxiety, interventions targeting either parenting or cogni-
tive distortions may be effective. In addition, significant
findings in adult clinical samples would imply the
importance of assessing clients’ current relationships.
Considering the support for overprotection as a mediator of
the relationship between external locus of control and
social anxiety, it seems plausible that the adult relation-
ships of a socially anxious individual may also be
characterized by an overprotective partner. Indeed, prior
studies have found that social anxiety is related to inter-
personal styles and romantic relationships marked by less
assertion and greater interpersonal dependence (Darcy
et al. 2005; Davila and Beck 2002). Protective and con-
trolling behaviors from one’s partner can serve to maintain
an individual’s social anxiety; therefore, reducing these
behaviors may also need to be a target of intervention.
Examination of additional mediating factors of these
relationships is particularly important given that the models
examined in the current study only accounted for 11–12%
of the explained variance. Future research in this area can
also explore how much direct influence parents have on the
functioning of late adolescents, as compared to peer
influences, especially in regards to information processing.
Prior research (Durbin et al. 1993) indicates that parenting
Cogn Ther Res (2009) 33:543–551 549
123
can influence adolescents’ selection of peers. Yet, a recent
study found social anxiety among adolescents was associ-
ated with reporting fewer than two friends (Iancu et al.
2006). Therefore, socially anxious individuals may be
more subject to parental influence, as compared to their
non-socially anxious peers. Joint examination of parental
and peer influences seems particularly relevant to the study
of social anxiety in adolescents and young adults.
In addition, it would be informative to assess both child
and parent cognitions about particular parenting practices.
It may not simply be a matter of the presence of certain
parenting styles, but how the child interprets these par-
enting practices may also be influential. For example, a
child may reason that a parent is being overprotective out
of concern for the child, resulting in a somewhat positive
feeling from the child or adolescent. Alternatively, a child
who views his or her parents’ behavior as indicative of
threat is likely to feel more anxious. Such cognitions could
be directly assessed in future studies. In addition, the rea-
sons parents decide to use certain practices, or the goals
they are trying to achieve with such practices, may also be
influential. For example, tending to overprotect your child
because of cultural standards or developmental consider-
ations may have different effects on a child than
overprotection exerted due to the parent’s fear of unreal-
istic threat in the environment. Such investigations may
also shed light on how parents perceive their child’s anx-
iety and/or temperament and how these recollections may
influence attempts to decrease the child’s anxiety. Overall,
future research can attempt to expand this area of study by
investigating such cognitions or goals of parenting more
directly.
Acknowledgments This study was part of Megan Spokas’s doctoral
dissertation conducted at Temple University under the mentorship of
Richard G. Heimberg. The authors wish to thank Lauren B. Alloy,
Deborah A. G. Drabick, Robert Fauber, Melissa Napolitano, and
Robert Ruchinskas, who served on the dissertation defense
committee.
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... At societal level, on the one hand, it brings about private tutoring and college entrance competition issues in Korea (Kim, 2016). On the other hand, it hardly enhances autonomy and social skills but also undermines emotional well-being within a micro perspective on personal development (Spokas & Heimberg, 2009;LeMoyne & Buchanan, 2011;Kwon et al., 2016). ...
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Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of psychosocial intervention which aims to reduce the mental health conditions like depression, anxiety disorder, and others. Similarly, deep learning is a type of machine learning and artificial intelligence that imitates how humans gain certain types of knowledge. In this paper, deep learning has been used to effectively alleviate teenagers’ social anxiety and improve their social ability and the quality of social relations. It aims to conduct an in-depth study on the diagnosis and treatment of cognitive behavior therapy in teenagers based on deep learning. First, it constructs the cognitive behavior diagnosis and treatment evaluation system of adolescent social anxiety and divides the system function into functional, structural, and database design. Then, the correlation prediction model between cognitive behavior therapy and adolescent social anxiety is constructed based on a multiobjective evolutionary algorithm. The risk and protective factors in adolescent growth are screened from the perspectives of people, family, school, and society. The fuzzy itemset support of different factors is defined. The vector of adolescent social anxiety expression index’s weight is calculated. The subjective and objective factors of social anxiety in adolescents are extracted based on the grey correlation degree. The correlation prediction model between accurate cognitive behavior therapy and adolescents’ social anxiety is established to complete the prediction research, diagnosis, and treatment effect. Simulation experiments show that the proposed method has good feasibility and high prediction accuracy. It can effectively alleviate the social anxiety of teenagers.
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