Failure to capitalize on sharing good news with romantic partners: Exploring positivity
deficits of socially anxious people with self-reports, partner-reports, and behavioral
Todd B. Kashdan, Ph.D. Patty Ferssizidis, Antonina S. Farmer, Leah M. Adams,
Patrick E. McKnight
Reference: BRT 2601
To appear in:
Behaviour Research and Therapy
Received Date: 13 January 2013
Revised Date: 30 March 2013
Accepted Date: 18 April 2013
Please cite this article as: Kashdan, T.B., Ferssizidis, P., Farmer, A.S., Adams, L.M., McKnight, P.E.,
Failure to capitalize on sharing good news with romantic partners: Exploring positivity deficits of socially
anxious people with self-reports, partner-reports, and behavioral observations, Behaviour Research and
Therapy (2013), doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2013.04.006.
This is a PDF file of an unedited manuscript that has been accepted for publication. As a service to
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- We examine positivity deficits in romantic relationships via self-reports, partner reports, and
laboratory reactions and observations by independent observers
- Social anxiety is associated with dysfunctional receipt and provision of interest and enthusiasm
for shared positive events
- Because responsiveness to shared positive events is a highly modifiable skill, our work provides
new insights for social anxiety interventions
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Running head: SOCIAL ANXIETY AND SHARING POSITIVE EVENTS
Failure to capitalize on sharing good news with romantic partners: Exploring positivity deficits of socially
anxious people with self-reports, partner-reports, and behavioral observations
Todd B. Kashdan
Antonina S. Farmer
Leah M. Adams
Patrick E. McKnight
George Mason University
Todd B. Kashdan, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030
Office Phone: 703-993-9486
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Extending prior work on social anxiety and positivity deficits, we examined whether individual differences
in social anxiety alter the ability to share and respond to the good news of romantic partners (i.e.,
capitalization support) and how this influences romantic relationship satisfaction and commitment. In this
study of 174 heterosexual couples (average age of 21.5 with 58.3% identifying as Caucasian), greater
social anxiety was associated with the provision and receipt of less supportive responses to shared
positive events as measured by trait questionnaires, partner reports, and behavioral observations in the
laboratory. In longitudinal analyses, individuals in romantic relationships with socially anxious partners
who experienced inadequate capitalization support were more likely to terminate their relationship and
report a decline in relationship quality six months later. As evidence of construct specificity, social anxiety
effects were independent of depressive symptoms. Taken together, social anxiety influenced a person's
ability to receive and provide support for shared positive events; these deficits had adverse romantic
consequences. Researchers and clinicians may better understand social anxiety by exploring a wider
range of interpersonal contexts and positive constructs. The addition of capitalization support to the social
anxiety literature offers new insights into interpersonal approaches and treatments.
KEYWORDS: social anxiety; social support; capitalization; relationship satisfaction; relationship
commitment; dyadic analyses
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Social interactions provide rewarding opportunities and social anxiety may limit access to these
rewards. Interpersonal difficulties are central to theoretical models of social anxiety (Clark & Wells, 1995;
Gilbert, 2001; Leary, 2000). According to these models, socially anxious people become anxious prior to
and during social interactions because they believe their behavior or perceived defects will prompt others
to reject them. To prevent undesirable social outcomes, socially anxious people avoid social contact,
become vigilant to social threats, and deflect attention when in social situations (Clark & Wells, 1995).
Although these efforts may reduce the likelihood of rejection, they also lead to rigid, constrained social
behavior (Alden & Taylor, 2004) and deplete the attentional resources and stamina needed to engage in
and extract rewards from pleasurable social interactions (Heimberg, Brozovich, & Rapee, 2010; Kashdan,
Weeks, & Savostyanova, 2011). Thus, social anxiety interferes with the potential rewards of social
interactions by either depriving an individual of those social encounters or disturbing the social process.
Few occasions are more rewarding than the opportunity to share a personally meaningful
experience with a close friend or romantic partner. Sharing these experiences in hopes of getting a
receptive, supportive audience is called a capitalization attempt (Langston, 1994). The resulting support
following disclosure (i.e., capitalization support) can be construed as a relationship maintenance strategy.
Communicating personal information to another person and having them respond to these disclosures is
essential to developing intimacy with another person (Reis & Shaver, 1988) and generating satisfaction in
close relationships (Collins & Miller, 1994). Previously, researchers focused on the importance of
supportiveness during difficult times, however, recent work suggests that capitalization support is an even
better predictor of well-being and relationship satisfaction, commitment, and longevity (Gable, Reis,
Impett, & Asher, 2004; Gable, Gonzaga, & Strachman, 2006).
When people positively respond to capitalization attempts, they signal that they are invested in
their partner’s well-being (Gable & Reis, 2010). Positive behavioral responses to capitalization attempts
are characterized as being active (interested and engaged in what one’s partner has to say) and
constructive (enthusiastic and encouraging elaboration). When a partner listens attentively with a curious
attitude, the person who disclosed the event experiences more intense, enduring positive emotions; these
positive emotions are also attributed to the relationship partner and the relationship as a whole (Gable et
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al., 2004; Gable et al., 2006; Reis et al., 2010). In contrast, the quality of a relationship is compromised
when people respond to shared positive events in a style that is passive (attentive but without attempts to
ask for details or extend the conversation) or destructive (pointing out the downsides of an event, thus
undermining its positive nature). Passive and destructive response styles convey disinterest in what is
important to romantic partners and are linked to greater conflict and less commitment, satisfaction,
intimacy, and trust within a relationship (Gable et al., 2004). In summary, romantic relationships develop
and mature through small positive interactions such as capitalization. We extended this work by exploring
individual differences that moderate the presence and benefits of healthy, supportive responses to
capitalization attempts. Specifically, we explored whether individual differences in social anxiety disturb
the capitalization process in romantic relationships.
Social Anxiety and the Quality of Romantic Relationships
Research on the romantic relationships of socially anxious people has been mixed. Socially
anxious people struggle to initiate romantic relationships (Schneier et al., 1994) and enter into lasting
relationships such as marriage (Lampe, Slade, Issakidis, & Andrews, 2003). When in a romantic
relationship, socially anxious people tend to describe it as less intimate and supportive (Cuming & Rapee,
2010; Sparrevohn & Rapee, 2009), recount less pleasurable sexual activity (Kashdan, Adams,
Savostyanova, Ferssizidis, McKnight, & Nezlek, 2011), and report greater conflict avoidance, less
emotion expression, and fewer self-disclosures (e.g., Davila & Beck, 2002). These findings might appear
face valid given the social difficulties experienced by the socially anxious, yet other researchers found no
association between social anxiety and romantic relationship quality (Beck, Davila, Farrow, & Grant,
2006; Wenzel, Graff-Dolezal, Macho, & Brendel, 2005), and some researchers found a small inverse
association (e.g., Cuming & Rapee, 2010; Filsinger & Wilson, 1983). These inconsistencies might reflect
methodological differences such as sampling or measurement. Our collective knowledge of social
anxiety and romantic relationships comes predominantly from cross-sectional studies where social
anxiety symptoms and romantic relationship functioning were measured during a single assessment with
a single informant—an approach that cannot capture how psychological processes affect each person in
the relationship over time (McNulty & Fincham, 2012).
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To date, only three published studies of social anxiety have collected information from both
romantic partners in a couple and all of them were limited to a cross-sectional design. One study found a
negative association between social anxiety and marital adjustment – but only for socially anxious
spouses; there was no evidence for partner effects (Filsinger & Wilson, 1983). In two additional studies,
researchers examined the behaviors of socially anxious people during laboratory interactions. Wenzel
and colleagues (2005) found that socially anxious individuals showed less frequent positive behaviors
and more extreme negative behaviors during conversations manipulated to be on positive, negative, or
Studying socially anxious women in romantic relationships, Beck and colleagues (2006) found
that social anxiety has no direct effect on the frequency of positive or negative behaviors during an
interaction between romantic partners. These researchers did find that greater social anxiety led to
greater distress when disclosing difficult life events, but only when their partners displayed a high
frequency of positive, supportive behaviors. Due to the cross-sectional nature design, it remains unclear
whether partners were more supportive of socially anxious women when they displayed distress or if
receipt of supportive responses exacerbated the distress of socially anxious women.
With mixed findings, there remains some doubt about the relevance of social anxiety to
relationship quality. Notably, prior studies failed to address how the social anxiety of one romantic partner
influences the behaviors and cognitions of the other partner. To understand social anxiety, similar to any
other personality dimension, we need to move from an individualistic to interpersonal perspective in
theory, methodology, and data analytic strategies (Reis, Collins, & Berscheid, 2000). A truly interpersonal
approach requires consideration of dynamic influences between partners, and cannot be addressed with
surveys or information processing tasks given to one person in a dyad (Coyne, 1999; Kenny, Kashy, &
Cook, 2006). Prior social anxiety studies have narrowly focused on social support for difficult life events
whereas research on capitalization support has yet to address vital individual differences that moderate
the presence and benefits of this process.
Social Anxiety and Positivity Deficits
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Relationship researchers have shown that positive behaviors are equally or of greater importance
to relationship satisfaction and longevity than negative behaviors (Algoe, Gable, & Maisel, 2010; Aron &
Aron, 1997; Gable et al., 2006). Socially anxious people are at particular risk of positivity deficits. Studies
on cognitive processing and neural networks have shown that socially anxious people are overly sensitive
to negative information and also less reactive to positive social cues such as happy faces (Quadflieg et
al., 2007; Silvia, Allan, Beauchamp, Maschauer, & Workman, 2006), and lack a natural approach
orientation under conditions of low threat (Hirsch & Matthews, 2000). Compared to a healthy comparison
group, socially anxious people spend less time paying attention to positive stimuli, disengage quicker, and
perseverate longer on negative stimuli (Chen, Clarke, MacLeod, & Guastella, 2012). Collectively, social
anxiety symptoms are linked to a wide range of positivity deficits that can be expected to interfere with the
maintenance of healthy, close relationships.
Socially anxious people tend to underestimate their performance and denigrate themselves in
social situations, often viewing themselves more negatively and less positively than how others perceive
them (Christensen, Stein, & Means-Christensen, 2003; Kashdan & Savostyanova, 2011; Wilson & Rapee,
2005). Upon receiving positive feedback from others, socially anxious people are less likely to enjoy this
experience —due to worries about being unable to reach new, higher social standards in the future (e.g.,
Alden & Wallace, 1995; Weeks, Heimberg, & Rodebaugh, 2008). These information processing and
motivational deficits might account for why socially anxious people are susceptible to less frequent,
intense, and enduring positive emotions and social events (Kashdan & Steger, 2006; Kashdan, Farmer et
al., in press).
Social Anxiety and Capitalization Support. To extend work on social anxiety in a relational
context, we considered whether dysfunctional capitalization support helps to explain when social anxiety
is related to romantic relationship problems. Given the emotional and interpersonal features of social
anxiety, socially anxious people may be at particular risk of dysfunctional capitalization support within
their close relationships. One possibility is that socially anxious people may be less responsive to
received capitalization support. First, disclosing positive events draws unwanted attention which is
uncomfortable. To avoid this discomfort, socially anxious people may discount or diminish the importance
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of positive events (Weeks, 2010). By diminishing positive events, socially anxious people might inhibit
capitalization opportunities. Second, negative interpretation biases tend to dominate in most social
anxiety theories (Clark & Wells, 1995; Hofmann, 2007; Leary, 2000). Socially anxious people are less
sensitive to positive social information and more likely to interpret ambiguous social events as negative
(Stopa & Clark, 2000). After disclosing a positive event to someone else, socially anxious people can be
expected to interpret their partners’ responses as less active and constructive than intended. Thus, we
think that socially anxious people might be less likely to perceive their partners as providing capitalization
A second possible way social anxiety could impact the capitalization process is by being less
likely to provide positive capitalization support to their partners. Socially anxious people tend to
suppress the expression of positive emotions and be less responsive to social reward cues (Farmer &
Kashdan, 2012; Heimberg et al., 2010; Turk, Heimberg, Luterek, Mennin, & Fresco, 2005). Other studies
found that socially anxious people are less likely to reciprocate smiles and more likely to act in an
unassertive, submissive manner (Hopko, McNeil, Zvolensky, & Eifert, 2001; Russell et al., 2011;
Rodebaugh, Gianoli, Turkheimer, & Oltmanns, 2010; Weeks, Heimberg, & Reinhardt, 2011). Based on
these findings, we suspect that socially anxious people respond less enthusiastically to other people’s
positive event disclosures, leading to a lower likelihood that partners view them as supportive of
In addition to examining the association between social anxiety and capitalization support, we
wanted to test whether social anxiety disrupts the relational benefits associated with capitalization
support. That is, while capitalization support might be beneficial to relationship satisfaction and
commitment, this process might be disrupted by the presence of a socially anxious romantic partner. By
examining the synergy between these variables, our study can move beyond main effect models of
whether, and how, social anxiety is related to romantic relationship problems (e.g., Beck et al., 2006;
Wenzel et al., 2005).
The Present Research
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In this study, we tested the theoretical assumption that social anxiety is a vital individual
difference factor to the occurrence of capitalization support, and that the combination of high social
anxiety and inadequate capitalization support is a toxic combination leading to declines in romantic
relationship quality and longevity. We hypothesized that when socially anxious people disclose positive
events, they will be more likely to 1) perceive their partners as being less responsive and 2) actually
receive less support from partners (a test of whether any dysfunction is not “just in their head”). After
hearing their partner’s share positive events, we expected that socially anxious people would be more
likely to 1) perceive themselves as less constructive and 2) be rated by partners as less supportive After
testing whether social anxiety disrupts the capitalization process, we conducted a longitudinal
examination of how social anxiety and responses to positive event disclosures predict relationship
functioning. We expected capitalization support to predict greater relationship satisfaction and
commitment over time and social anxiety would moderate these relational benefits. We hypothesized that
being in a romantic relationship with a socially anxious person, and perceiving a relative absence of
capitalization support from them, would predict a greater probability of break-ups and greater declines in
relationship quality over time. The present study is one of the first longitudinal examinations of social
anxiety in romantic relationships and as a result, we explored the direction of the hypothesized social
anxiety and capitalization support effects.
The co-occurrence of social anxiety and depressive symptoms are the norm rather than the
exception, and both emotional disturbances are associated with diminished positive experiences,
infrequent positive events, and psychological (in)flexibility (Kashdan, 2007; Rottenberg, 2005). To
address construct specificity, we examined depressive symptoms as an alternative explanation for any
social anxiety effects.
Our sample consisted of 174 heterosexual dating couples recruited from a Mid-Atlantic university
and its surrounding community. Participants were recruited via flyers and online advertisements. Both
partners had to participate in the study and couples needed to be dating for at least three months. The
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mean relationship length was 21.7 months (SD = 19.4); 57.5% of couples were together for at least one
year and 19.1% were engaged or married. The sample had a mean participant age of 21.5 years (SD =
4.5) and an ethnic composition of 58.3% Caucasian, 14.7% Asian, 10.6% Latino/Hispanic, 5.2% Middle
Eastern, 4.3% African American, 0.6% Native American, and 6.3% other. We oversampled for socially
anxious people with a subset of advertisements targeting people who are in romantic relationships and
experience intense anxiety in social situations. Couples were given research credit for psychology
classes and if a partner was not a student, received financial compensation.
Participants attended two 1.5 hour laboratory sessions. Upon their arrival, couples provided
informed consent and were then separated into private rooms to complete informed consent,
demographic, personality, and baseline questionnaires. Descriptive data and internal reliability for
questionnaires are reported in Table 1.
Social Interaction Anxiety Scale. This 20-item scale (Mattick & Clarke, 1998) measured fear
and avoidance of social interactions due to concerns about being scrutinized by other people; our primary
measure of social anxiety. Participants responded to items using a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 0 (not
at all characteristic of me) to 4 (extremely characteristic of me). This scale has been shown to have strong
reliability and validity across clinical, community, and student samples (Heimberg, Mueller, Holt, &
Liebowitz, 1992; Mattick and Clarke, 1998).
Receiving Support. The 12-item Perceived Responses to Capitalization Attempts Scale (PRCA;
Gable et al., 2004) measures perceptions of how partners generally respond to shared positive events.
Participants responded to items using a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (not at all true) to 7 (very true). Each
item began with the stem, “When I tell my partner about something good in my life . . .” followed by
responses categorized as active–constructive (e.g., My partner usually reacts to my good fortune
enthusiastically), passive–constructive (e.g., My partner says little, but I know he/she is happy for me),
active–destructive (e.g., My partner reminds me that most good things have their bad aspects as well), or
passive–destructive (e.g., My partner often seems disinterested). Prior research has shown that active-
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constructive responses correlate positively with healthy relationship outcomes, whereas passive and
destructive responses correlate negatively with healthy relational outcomes (Gable et al., 2004, 2006;
Reis et al., 2010). Active-constructive responses represent capitalization support. Using an algorithm by
prior researchers (Gable et al., 2004, 2006; Reis et al., 2010), a single score was created with greater
scores reflective of more capitalization support and less passive or destructive responding (by subtracting
the mean of passive-constructive, active-destructive, and passive-destructive items from active-
constructive items). Composite scores ranged from -5 to 6 for women and from -2 to 6 for men. A
supportive response style was negatively correlated with passive and destructive response tendencies.
The PRCA has been shown to be valid as evidenced by strong positive associations with observer ratings
of responses to capitalization attempts (Gable et al., 2006) and positive correlations with perceived social
support (Shorey & Lakey, 2011). As for validity, people who tend to receive supportive responses from
their partner following positive event disclosures report greater personal well-being, relationship quality,
and relationship longevity (Gable et al., 2004, 2006; Reis et al., 2010). Examinations of capitalization
attempts in contexts such as peer and parent-child relationships led to similar findings such that
supportive responding predicted greater well-being and relationship quality (Gable & Reis, 2010, for
review). In the present study, we found that when sharing positive events, people who viewed their
partner as supportive (PRCA) reported greater relationship satisfaction and commitment.
Providing Support. This 3-item face-valid scale, created for this study, measures self-perceived
provision of supportive responses following positive event disclosures by partners. Participants
responded to items using a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (not at all true) to 7 (very true). Items
included: “Hearing about/responding to good things that happen to my partner makes me feel alive,” “I
provide constructive responses to my partner to maintain our relationship,” “I enjoy hearing about and
responding to good things that happen to my partner.” A single score was created such that higher scores
reflected more supportive responsiveness. This scale and the PRCA scale capture how people view their
own and their partners' reactions to shared positive events, respectively. As for validity, in the present
study, we found that the provision of support following positive event disclosures by partners was related
to was related to greater relationship satisfaction and commitment.
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Relationship Quality. To measure satisfaction in and commitment to romantic relationships, we
used two subscales of the Relationship Investment Model Scale (Rusbult, Martz, & Agnew, 1998).
Satisfaction subscale items assess the degree of positive versus negative feelings and thoughts
experienced in the relationship (5-items; e.g., My relationship is close to ideal). Commitment subscale
items measure a person’s intent to remain in the relationship (7-items; e.g., I am oriented toward the long-
term future of my relationship). Participants responded to items using a 9-point scale ranging from 1 (not
at all true/never true) to 9 (very true/true all of the time). These scales have been shown to have strong
convergent and discriminant validity as evidenced by large positive correlations with measures of marital
adjustment and intimacy, and small associations with personality scales unrelated to social activity (e.g.,
Le & Agnew, 2003; Rusbult et al., 1998). Relationship satisfaction and commitment have been shown to
differentially predict relationship outcomes (Bui, Peplau, & Hill, 1996; Impett, Beals, & Peplau, 2001).
Beck Depression Inventory-II. Severity of depressive symptoms was assessed using this 21-
item questionnaire (Beck, Steer, & Brown, 1996). Participants responded to items using a 4-point Likert
scale (from 0 to 4). In previous research, this measure demonstrated excellent reliability, validity,
sensitivity to clinical intervention, and ability to differentiate people with and without mood disorder
diagnoses (Beck et al., 1996; Sprinkle et al., 2002).
After separately completing baseline measures, couples were reunited and seated together on a
couch to complete social interaction tasks involving the disclosure of positive and negative life events.
One small camera was set up 10 feet away to capture both partners, and a microphone was placed at
head-level behind the partners to clearly capture their voices. Couples participated in three separate
interactions; two occurring on their first session and one on their second session scheduled one week
later. In the initial interaction, couples discussed their first romantic date for five minutes. Participants
were given one goal: to have a conversation about how they remember their first date. We used this
interaction to acclimate couples to the experimental room, procedures, and videotaping equipment.
Couples were left alone until a timer signaled the end of the task.
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Participants were then given a second interaction task in which they were asked to either share
positive or negative events (counter-balanced across the first and second study appointments); a design
used by Gable et al (2006). Before discussing positive events, partners received the following
instructions from the experimenter:
Now I would like for the two of you to take some time and think about a positive event that you have
experienced but have not yet shared with your partner. You are free to choose any event that comes
to mind, such as getting a good grade, talking to a childhood friend, an important project at school or
your job, etc. This event can be anything good (big or small) that has either happened recently or that
you anticipate happening in the future. However, it must be something that has been on your mind
lately and that you have not yet shared with your partner. You will take turns talking about your events
and you will decide who goes first. When talking about your event, try to talk about it in as much detail
as possible. When hearing about your partner’s event you are free talk as much or as little as you
wish. In both situations, try to engage in a conversation that is as close as possible to a normal
interaction between you. You will have 6 minutes on the timer to complete this task. I will come in
after the timer goes off. Do you have any questions? Now who will be the first to share the event?
Before discussing negative events, partners received similar instructions but with a focus on sharing “a
time when you were facing a particular problem, concern, or stressor and felt that you could have used
your partner’s care and support and, for any reason, he/she was not present.” The order in which partners
chose to share their positive event was not related to level of social anxiety, χ
(1, N = 227) = 0.07, p >
.05, or gender, χ
(1, N = 227) = 0.15, p > .05.
After each interaction, couples independently completed questionnaires about their experience.
Trained observers later coded the videotapes of positive event disclosures for particular behaviors.
Consistent with prior work (Gable, 2006), behaviors and perceptions of support related to negative event
disclosures were not examined as we did not expect that active and constructive responses in this
context would be positively related to relationship outcomes and rather, could have a deleterious effect.
While social support behavioral coding systems have been established (e.g., Collins & Feeney, 2000;
Simpson, Rholes, & Nelligan, 1992), the primary focus of the present research was to understand the role
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of positivity deficits in social anxiety during positive event disclosures. Thus, a comparison of
capitalization and social support behaviors extends beyond the scope of this paper.
Post-Experiment Self-Report Measures
After each videotaped interaction (sharing positive and negative events), partners completed a
10-item version of the 18-item Responsiveness Scale (Reis, 2003), as used in Gable et al. (2006). This
measure assessed how people believed their partner responded to shared positive events by
understanding, validating, and showing care for them. Each item began with the stem, “When I told my
partner about the good event that happened to me……” followed by statements such as “My partner was
responsive to my needs” and “My partner really listened to me.” Participants made ratings using a 7-point
Likert scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 7 (extremely). Another set of questions focused on a self-
assessment of responsiveness to partner’s shared positive events, with each of 10 items beginning with
the stem “When my partner told me about the good event that happened to him/her…” and an additional
two items rating the valence and importance of the event that their partner shared with them. Thus, each
person rated their provision and receipt of capitalization support. Adequate reliability and validity has
been found in prior capitalization studies (e.g., Gable et al., 2006).
Coding of Videotaped Behavior
We developed a behavioral coding scheme to describe the quality of reactions people displayed
in response to their partner sharing a positive event. Coding was circumscribed to the person who was
listening, not the partner sharing their good news. All coders received prototype descriptions of the four
types of partner responses:
• Active-Constructive – Partner displays enthusiastic support for the event they are told about.
He/she reacts in a positive manner and actively seeks additional information or absorbs
information about the event (e.g., non-verbal cues of savoring or satisfaction). They can voice
enthusiasm through inflection in their voice or the content of their comments. Their enthusiasm
may also be apparent in their gestures and non-verbal behavior, such as in Duchene or genuine
smiles, laughter, giddiness, or intimate forms of touch. The partner may show genuine interest
by asking questions about the event or actively exploring and searching for more information.
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This can be accomplished through statements that prolong the conversation and encourage the
person to elaborate on their event. Key Element: enthusiasm and elaboration.
• Passive-Constructive – The partner responds positively but does not actively contribute to the
conversation or attempt to explore the topic in any depth. His/her behavior is primarily passive
with subtle signs of support and approval. He/she might show approval or support by engaging
in intimate touch, nodding in approval, making eye contact or smiling. He/she may make a
perfunctory, positive comment on the event but does not actively explore
the story being shared
by asking questions. The partner seems attentive and interested in the event but may either
remain quiet, or voice approval with simple phrases that do not intend to prolong the
conversation. Key Element: quiet but attentive and/or interested.
• Active-Destructive - The partner undermines the positive nature of the event by pointing out
potential problems or downsides related to the event. He/she may minimize the event through
questions or statements. Partner may also point out how the positive event might adversely
affect them. Partner may also show disappointment through non-verbal behavior, such as
displaying negative emotions through facial expressions that show disgust, disapproval, etc.
He/she may also roll their eyes, nod in disapproval, or make negative behavioral gestures
intended to mock or undermine the event. The inflection and non-verbal behavior do not have to
be intense. The content of their statements and tone of their non-verbal expressions, posture,
and other behaviors might be clear, calm, and direct in their negativity. Key Element:
undermining or denying positive nature of event.
• Passive-Destructive – Partner tends to ignore or fails to respond to the event. His/her behavior
primarily reflects disinterest or inattentiveness. The partner may look away or be occupied with
other objects (cell phone, etc). He/she may change the subject, simply remain quiet, or redirect
the focus of the conversation to them. The partner might briefly acknowledge the event with
short phrases but they appear disinterested in the response. These phrases are not intended to
prolong the conversation. Instead, they appear to subtly bring the conversation to an early end.
Key Element: lack of interest / self-focus.
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After watching an interaction at least two times, coders selected the category that best represented a
person’s dominant response style throughout the interaction. They then rated the participants on each of
the four categories using a 6-point scale for how well each category captured their behavior, ranging from
0 (absolutely no match) to 5 (very good match). To increase independent ratings, coders only focused on
one of the partners in each couple (never both). Inter-rater reliability was acceptable as determined by
intraclass correlations (ICC) with absolute agreement of .89 for the active-constructive dimension (M =
1.64, SD = 1.3), .63 for the passive–constructive dimension (M = 1.27, SD = 1.23), .80 for the active–
destructive dimension (M = .85, SD = 1.2), and .73 for the passive–destructive dimension (M = .83, SD =
1.1). All videos were double-coded by independent raters and their scores were aggregated to create four
dimensions of capitalization responses for subsequent analyses. The observed differences between ICC
estimates (e.g., passive-constructive dimension compared to active-constructive dimension) probably
reflect the greater difficulty in assessing one response style relative to the other. Regardless, these inter-
rater reliability estimates were generally high and certainly higher than most behavioral coding
procedures (e.g., only 2 of 14 Specific Affect Coding System and 4 of 16 Behavioral Affective Rating
Scale observations had ICC’s greater than .70; Johnson, 2002) since our estimates came from the actual
item-level data and not the mean scale data. Given that 85.4% of participants displayed at least some
degree of match (> 0) for more than one response style,, we choose to analyze the four dimensions of
capitalization responses rather than the dominant response style category. Our choice allowed us to take
into account the possibility of a person providing multiple response styles within a given interaction for a
better understanding of the nuanced ways in which participants provided support.
To assess the validity of this behavior coding system, we computed a composite score similar to
PRCA procedures (active-constructive minus average of other categories) creating an overall measure of
observer-rated capitalization with higher scores reflecting greater capitalization support. This measure
significantly correlated with participant’s self-rated provision of capitalization of support following the
interaction (r = .18, p = .008), as well as partner’s ratings of receipt of capitalization support (r = .23, p =
.002) and partners’ PRCA scores (r = .31, p < .001).
6-Month Follow-up Assessment
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Participants were informed that they would be contacted by e-mail approximately 6 months from
their participation in the study. All participants were contacted by e-mail with a link to complete an online
survey which included questions about their relationship status (whether the relationship was intact),
relationship satisfaction and commitment (Rusbult et al., 1998), and the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale
(Mattick & Clarke, 1998). We obtained data from 299 participants (85.92% response rate), which included
data from both partners for 125 couples.
Means, standard deviations, ranges, and alpha coefficients for basic measures prior to
standardization are reported in Table 1. Participants’ average social anxiety scores (M = 17.58; SD =
11.33) were similar to other large non-clinical samples (Heimberg et al., 1992; Mattick & Clarke, 1998);
participants at 1.5 standard deviations above the mean in our sample had scores that approximate the
cut-off for reliability differentiating people with and without diagnoses of social anxiety disorder (≥
Brown et al., 1997). Using this score to reflect analogue social anxiety disorder, 19.5% of our couples (n =
68) had at least one person who scored in the clinical range. We examined social anxiety, and personality
and relationship processes, as continuous variables in analyses. With an interest in main and interaction
effects, dimensional predictors were standardized to increase interpretability (Campbell & Kashy, 2002).
For our laboratory interaction, analyses focused on 157 couples, a subset of the initial sample
with available behavioral data
. Couples with and without behavioral data were compared across ten
demographic (e.g., age, length of relationship), predictor, and outcome variables. The only difference
found was that couples without behavioral data described their partners as generally responding with
greater capitalization support to positive event disclosures (PRCA), t(250) = 2.09, p = .038. As a
manipulation check, we examined whether couples viewed the events being shared as positive using a 7-
point scale from 1 (extremely negative) to 7 (extremely positive). In empty models (with no predictors), we
conducted dyadic analyses on the valence of one’s own event and the event shared by romantic partners,
respectively. The average person viewed their own event as extremely positive, as evidenced by an
intercept of 5.95 (95% Confidence Interval of 5.80 to 6.10), and viewed their partner’s event as extremely
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positive, as evidenced by an intercept of 5.89 (95% Confidence Interval of 5.70 to 6.08). These data
suggest that participants followed instructions and shared positive events to their romantic partners during
the interaction. Of note, we found that people with greater social anxiety were more likely to diminish the
importance of positive events. Compared to their less anxious peers, people with high social anxiety rated
the positive event they shared as less important/meaningful (r = -.12, p < .05) and their partner’s event as
both less positive (r = -.11, p < .05) and less important/meaningful (r = -.13, p < .05). Social anxiety was
not significantly related to observer ratings of the positivity of the event.
Analysis of Dyadic Data
To account for the non-independence of each person’s data, we tested research questions with
Actor-Partner Interdependence Models (APIM; Kenny et al., 2006). APIM analyses control for the effects
of one partner’s behavior when examining the effects of the other partner’s behavior. This approach is a
conservative test because a given predictor (e.g., social anxiety) can only reach statistical significance if it
accounts for unique variances beyond the other predictor in the model (e.g., partner’s social anxiety). We
examined the within-person effect of how an individual’s social anxiety contributes to his or her own
relationship outcomes (i.e., the actor effect) and the between-person effect of how an individual’s social
anxiety contributes to their partner’s relationship outcomes (i.e., the partner effect). All analyses involved
multilevel modeling, conducted using HLM 6.08 (Raudenbush, Bryk, Cheong, & Congdon, 2000). To
ensure that social anxiety effects were not the result of being in briefer romantic relationships, we
included relationship length as a covariate in multilevel models. We also included gender as a main effect
and moderator, to examine potential contextual constraints on how social anxiety operates.
Besides having data from both partners, we collected information on the directionality of
capitalization support. When a person shares a positive event, they hope to receive capitalization support
(receipt). When a person hears about a positive event from their partner, they may or may not provide
capitalization support (provision). These data allowed us to adopt an interpersonal perspective of social
anxiety where we could explore dynamic exchanges with romantic partners (Coyne, 1999).
Indices of Capitalization Support and Relationship Quality: Cross-Sectional
We first sought to replicate prior work (e.g., Gable et al., 2004, 2006) showing that an active-
constructive response style is associated with higher relationship well-being. We did this be examining
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whether our three indices of capitalization support (self-report, partner report, observations in laboratory
interactions) were related to the quality of romantic relationships. The quality of romantic relationships
was operationalized as satisfaction and commitment.
We found that when sharing positive events, people who viewed their partner as supportive
(PRCA) reported greater relationship satisfaction, β = .40, t = 4.85, p < .001, and commitment, β = .31, t =
3.75, p < .001. We also found that people who believed they provided supportive responses to partners
reported greater relationship satisfaction, β = .35, t = 4.75, p < .001, and commitment, β = .35, t = 4.94, p
< .001. During the laboratory interaction, both members of romantic dyads reported on their receipt of
capitalization support from their partner and their provision of capitalization support to their partner.
People who felt that they received more capitalization support reported greater relationship satisfaction, β
= .37, t = 3.02, p = .003, and commitment, β = .35, t = 2.37, p = .019, and people who felt that they
provided their partner with more capitalization support reported greater relationship satisfaction, β = .38, t
= 2.36, p = .019, but there was no significant association with commitment (p = .21). There were no
statistically significant main or interactive effects for observer ratings of capitalization support dimensions
in the laboratory, but people whose partners were rated as providing more support (composite score)
reported marginally greater relationship satisfaction, β = .20, t = 1.93, p = .054. There was consistency
across trait and state measures in the relational benefits of viewing one’s partner or oneself as supportive
or responsive to positive events.
Social Anxiety Symptoms and Reported Receipt and Provision of Support
We next examined whether social anxiety (Aim 1) was related to the receipt and provision of
support following shared positive events. We expected socially anxious people to both perceive
themselves and be rated by partners as less supportive when providing support and that they would
receive less support from their partners when disclosing their positive event. We organized results around
our three approaches for operationalizing capitalization support: (1) trait perceptions of capitalization
support received from and provided to romantic partners, (2) observations of when capitalization support
is made to romantic partners, and (3) state perceptions of capitalization support received from and
provided to romantic partners during laboratory interactions.
Trait Measures of Capitalization Support
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As hypothesized, we found evidence that people with greater social anxiety would perceive
themselves and be perceived by partners as being less supportive during positive event disclosures.
Using a trait measure to capture how partners typically provide support to one another, we found an actor
effect on received capitalization support (PRCA scale), β = -.17, t = -2.61, p = .01. Romantic partners
rated people with greater social anxiety as less likely to provide supportive responses to shared positive
events. We also found evidence for a partner effect on the provision of capitalization support, β = -.17, t =
-2.92, p = .004. People with greater social anxiety believed that they provided less supportive responses
to their romantic partners. The only other significant effect found that women felt they provided more
capitalization support, β = .15, t = 2.89, p = .005. Neither gender nor relationship length predicted or
moderated any of the estimated effects.
Laboratory Measures of Capitalization Support
In addition to examining general perceptions of support, we asked whether people with greater
social anxiety behave differently during the sharing of positive events in a laboratory interaction. Our
hypotheses remained the same, that people with greater social anxiety would provide and receive fewer
supportive responses during positive event disclosures. We used independent observer ratings of
capitalization support given to partners and post-interaction self- and partner-reports. For observer
ratings, we included participants’ ratings of the importance or meaningfulness of their shared events
(rated on 7-point Likert scales) as covariates.
Behavioral Observations. First, we examined how social anxiety related to observer ratings of
capitalization support. We found that actor social anxiety was positively related to observer ratings of
passive-constructive responding, β = .21, t = 2.54, p = .01. Thus, people who were more socially anxious
were more likely to display a passive-constructive response style. We also found an Actor Social Anxiety
x Gender interaction on passive-destructive responding, β = .20, t = 2.48, p = .01. Upon examining simple
slopes by using dummy codes for gender (Cohen, Cohen, West, & Aiken, 2003), we found that women
with greater social anxiety exhibited more passive-destructive responses to their partners as rated by
independent observers, β = .20, t = 1.89, p = .06, and men with greater social anxiety exhibited less
passive-destructive responses to their partners, β = -.18, t = -1.74, p = .08. We failed to find significant
main or interaction effects for model variables on observed active-constructive or active-destructive
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responding. Consistent with previous research (Gable et al., 2006), we then computed an overall
observer-rated capitalization support score whereby higher scores reflected more active–constructive
responding. We found no significant social anxiety effects using this composite score (ps > .25).
However, higher social anxiety scores significantly predicted more response style categories coded
above zero, β = -.14, t = 2.15, p = .03. This suggests that response behaviors of people with greater
social anxiety were more likely to have elements that were both active and passive, and both constructive
and destructive. Thus, a single score may not capture the maladaptive nature of responsiveness in this
Perceptions of Capitalization Support. Besides observational data, both members of romantic
dyads reported on the receipt of capitalization support from their partner and their provision of
capitalization support to their partner following the laboratory interaction. We expected that people with
greater social anxiety would provide and receive fewer supportive responses during positive event
disclosures. As hypothesized, people with greater social anxiety felt they received less capitalization
support (actor effect), β = -.18, t = -2.16, p = .03 after sharing their positive event. Given the tendency of
socially anxious people to diminish positive events, we checked to see whether their perceptions were
“just in their head.” We found evidence that socially anxious people accurately perceived their partners
as their partners also acknowledged providing less capitalization support (partner effect), β = -.17, t = -
2.02, p = .04. When socially anxious people were in the role of providing support to their partners, we
found that their partners felt they received more capitalization support (partner effect), β = .18, t = 2.05, p
Summary. We found evidence that greater social anxiety is associated with dysfunctional
capitalization support (receipt and provision). When receiving support from partners, people with greater
social anxiety felt they received less support from their partners and their partners also acknowledged
providing less support following a laboratory task. When providing support, people with greater social
anxiety viewed themselves as less likely to provide capitalization support and their romantic partners also
rated them as less supportive. This was found for perceptions of support in daily life (trait scales).
Following a laboratory interaction, independent observers found that people with greater social anxiety
engaged in more passive-constructive responding; women with greater social anxiety engaged in more
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passive-destructive responding whereas men with greater social anxiety engaged in less passive-
destructive responding. In contrast, partners of people with greater social anxiety felt an abundance of
received capitalization support following a laboratory interaction, suggesting an asymmetry in how socially
anxious partners behave or are perceived.
Longitudinal Relationship Outcomes
Of the 299 participants from which we obtained follow-up data, 250 people (83.6%) were in the
same relationship 6 months later
. Analyses focused on our primary question: does the accumulated
presence of capitalization support over the course of a romantic relationship help explain when social
anxiety is related to relational problems (Aim 2)? Our inclusion of covariates, main effects, and
moderation tests is illustrated by the predictors in our Level-1 Equation (ancillary analyses failed to find
support for gender as a moderating variable, thus, these interactions are not included below):
(Gender) + γ
(Capitalization Support) + γ
(Actor Social Anxiety) + γ
Anxiety) + γ
(Actor x Partner Social Anxiety Effect) + γ
(Actor Social Anxiety x Capitalization Support) +
(Partner Social Anxiety x Capitalization Support) + γ
(Actor Social Anxiety x Partner Social Anxiety x
Capitalization Support) + γ
(Relationship Length) + r
The laboratory measures of capitalization support only captured a single instance of capitalization support
instead of general relationship behavior tendencies. Thus, to answer our research question, we
conducted analyses using the global/trait measures of capitalization support receipt and provision. To
address the specificity of our model, we also examined the reverse direction of whether capitalization
support and relationship quality predicted changes in social anxiety symptoms over time.
Relationship stability was operationalized as intact couples at the 6-month follow-up. To handle
this dichotomous outcome variable, we used a series of non-linear (Bernoulli) multilevel models, often
referred to as multilevel logistical regression. We found that baseline actor social anxiety was positively
related to the likelihood that the relationship ended prior to the 6-month follow-up, β = .35, t = 2.44, p =
.02. We also found a Partner Social Anxiety x PRCA interaction, β = -.31, t = -2.82, p = .006. Based on
data analytic procedures for multilevel models (Bauer & Curran, 2005; Preacher, Curran, & Bauer, 2006),
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we examined simple slopes. When socially anxious people (+1 SD from the mean) were perceived by
their partners as providing less capitalization support, the relationship was more likely to end, t = 2.10, p
= .04, whereas for people with low social anxiety (-1 SD from the mean), partner perceptions of
capitalization support had no association with break-up status, t = 0.72, p = .47. This suggests that in
predicting relationship maintenance, the combination of being in a romantic relationship with a socially
anxious person was insufficient to predict relationship longevity; break-ups only occurred when partners
failed to receive adequate capitalization support.
Change in Relationship Quality
In these analyses, we focused on social anxiety and capitalization support as predictors of
change in relationship satisfaction and commitment. The only difference from the Equation above was the
use of difference scores (follow-up minus baseline) as outcome variables (Aim 2). As previously stated,
we hypothesized that social anxiety would interfere with capitalization support, thereby initiating negative
Receipt of Support. The following analyses focused on how the perceived receipt of support
(PRCA) predicted changes in the quality of romantic relationships. We found that greater actor social
anxiety predicted declining relationship satisfaction, β = -.42, t = -2.56, p = .01, and there were significant
Partner Social Anxiety x PRCA interactions for relationship satisfaction, β = .43, t = 3.12, p = .003, and
commitment, β = .32, t = 2.48, p = .01. As shown in Figure 1, partners of people with greater social
anxiety reported greater declines in relationship satisfaction when they believed they were not receiving
capitalization support (-1 SD from the mean), β = -.54, t = -2.71, p = .007; when people believed they
were receiving capitalization support (+1 SD from the mean), there was no social anxiety effect, p > .10.
Similarly, partners of people with greater social anxiety reported greater declines in relationship
commitment when they believed they were not receiving capitalization support (-1 SD from the mean), β =
-.49, t = -3.04, p = .003; when people believed they were receiving capitalization support (+1 SD from the
mean), there was no social anxiety effect, p > .10.
Provision of Support. The following analyses focused on how the perceived provision of
capitalization support predicted changes in the quality of relationships. Mirroring findings on receiving
support, we found Actor Social Anxiety x Provision of Capitalization Support interactions for relationship
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satisfaction, β = -.26, t = -2.24, p = .03, and commitment, β = -.23, t = -2.29, p = .02. As shown in Figure
2, people with low social anxiety reported a smaller decline in relationship satisfaction, β = -.53, t = -3.05,
p = .003, when they perceived themselves to be supportive to their partners (+1 SD from the mean);
when people believed they failed to provide capitalization support (-1 SD from the mean), there was no
actor social anxiety effect on relationship satisfaction, p > .10. Similarly, people with low social anxiety
reported a smaller decline in relationship commitment, β = -.36, t = -2.45, p = .02, when they believed
they provided support (+1 SD from the mean), when people believed they failed to provide capitalization
support (-1 SD from the mean), there was no actor social anxiety effect on relationship commitment, p >
An additional finding is that for people with high social anxiety, high provision of support was
associated with greater declines in relationship commitment, β = -.36, t = -2.45, p = .02 (Figure 2, B), but
the amount of support provided was not significantly related to relationship satisfaction, β = -.06, t = -0.32,
p = .75 (Figure 2, B). These findings suggest that engaging in healthy relationship behavior does not
necessarily translate into improvement in the quality of the relationship.
Reverse Directional Model: Predicting Change in Social Anxiety
We tested a reverse causal model with capitalization responses and romantic relationship quality
as predictors of change in social anxiety from baseline to 6-month follow-up. Our measures of
capitalization support and relationship quality failed to significantly predict changes in social anxiety (ps >
.10). Thus, our longitudinal models significantly operated in only one direction.
We wanted to ensure that the effect of social anxiety on capitalization support could not be
attributable to the related construct of depressive symptoms. To test this, we conducted
APIM analyses with individual differences in depressive symptoms as a covariate; in prior tests, we
already showed that effects could not be attributable to gender or the length of romantic relationships.
Due to concerns about multicollinearity, these tests should be considered stringent. First, we focused on
whether social anxiety retained associations with capitalization support. Controlling for depressive
symptoms, social anxiety effects on trait measures of capitalization support remained statistically
significant. In predicting laboratory measures, the Social Anxiety x Gender interaction effect on observer
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ratings of passive-destructive responding and state self-report measured of capitalization support during
the interaction remained significant; however, social anxiety was no longer significantly related to
observer ratings of passive-constructive responding (p > .25). In contrast, depressive symptoms failed to
have a significant effect on any trait, observer, or laboratory state measure of capitalization support after
controlling for social anxiety (all ps >.25). Second, we focused on whether social anxiety and
capitalization support continued to be associated with longitudinal relationship outcomes. Controlling for
depressive symptoms, interactions between social anxiety and capitalization support on longitudinal
changes in relationship stability, satisfaction, and commitment remained statistically significant (notably,
the Actor Social Anxiety x Provision of Capitalization Support interaction for relationship satisfaction
became a trend at p = .05). There was one exception: actor social anxiety was no longer significantly
related to the likelihood that the relationship ended (p = .92). In contrast, depressive symptoms failed to
have any significant effects after controlling for social anxiety (all ps >.20). In summary, we felt fairly
confident that the effects of social anxiety on indices of capitalization support, and the synergy between
social anxiety and capitalization support on longitudinal relationship outcomes were robust and not
confounded with depressive symptoms such that for 13 of 14 tests social anxiety effects remained and for
14 of 14 tests there was no evidence for depressive symptom effects.
In the context of romantic relationships, social anxiety was related to the provision and receipt of
support when sharing positive events. In a laboratory interaction, socially anxious people believed that
they received less supportive responses when they shared positive events to partners and in turn,
partners acknowledged providing less capitalization support. When asked how they typically provide
capitalization support in daily life (i.e., trait scales), socially anxious people viewed themselves, and were
viewed by their partners, as unenthusiastic and disinterested following partner disclosures of positive
events. This lack of provision of capitalization support was visible to independent observers such that
socially anxious individuals were viewed as unenthusiastic and non-expressive of positive emotions
during laboratory interaction. These findings extend work linking social anxiety to the suppression of both
negative and positive emotions (e.g., Erwin, Heimberg, Schneier, & Liebowitz, 2003; Turk et al., 2005).
However, an unexpected finding emerged where the partners of people with greater social anxiety felt an
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abundance of received capitalization support following a laboratory interaction. This suggests an
asymmetry in how socially anxious people are perceived by their partners in different contexts—they are
viewed as being less supportive in everyday life but as more supportive during the laboratory task. While
this finding may reflect method variance, we speculate that partners of socially anxious people consider
context when assessing their partner’s behavior, such that lesser demands are placed on and expected
from them in public social situations (such as a laboratory experiment where partners are being
videotaped) compared to a more private environment,
In prior work, the provision and receipt of capitalization support has been shown to strengthen
existing relationships by providing signals that events indicative of happiness and personal growth are
valued by partners (Gable et al., 2004, 2006; Reis et al., 2010). Perceiving partners as providers of
capitalization support has been strongly associated with greater relationship satisfaction, intimacy, love,
and commitment. We replicated these findings with converging lines of evidence that the receipt and
provision of capitalization support, as general tendencies in relationships (trait) and during a laboratory
interaction (state), were associated with greater relationship satisfaction and commitment. Observer
ratings of capitalization support in the laboratory were not significantly related to relational outcomes. This
laboratory assessment of capitalization only captured a single instance of support (in an artificial setting)
which may have differed from general relationship behavioral tendencies (in the real-world). It is also
possible that capitalization attempts are only beneficial when these behaviors are perceived as supportive
through the interpretative lens of the individual, thus highlighting the importance of perception over
To extend the main effects of capitalization support on relational outcomes, we examined social
anxiety as a moderator of the longitudinal influence of capitalization support on relationship stability and
quality. Across a 6-month period, we found a few straightforward findings. Compared to less anxious
peers, socially anxious people experienced a higher likelihood of break-up and greater declines in
relationship satisfaction. Relationship break-ups were more likely when individuals felt they were
receiving inadequate capitalization support from a socially anxious partner (i.e., moderation model).
Similarly, when the benefits of being in a romantic relationship with a socially anxious person were
minimal, in terms of received capitalization support, partners experienced reductions in satisfaction and
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commitment over a 6-month period. Thus, to understand the longevity of romantic relationships, it was
insufficient to focus on the presence of inadequate capitalization support or high social anxiety alone.
Our results fit with theories suggesting that upon recognizing an inability to be rewarded in a
relationship, individuals manage distress by strategically distancing themselves from their partner (e.g.,
Canary & Stafford, 1992; Murray, Holmes, & Collins, 2006). The reasons for remaining in a dysfunctional
relationship can vary, and the strategies for regulating the day-to-day predicament of having unmet needs
vary as well. Distancing strategies to manage unsatisfying relationships include devaluing partner
attributes and the overall relationship, disclosing less often, withholding the pursuit and provision of
support, and seeking alternative sources of rewards and belonging (Alden & Taylor, 2004; Murray,
Holmes, & Griffin, 1996). This framework might explain how despite being generous with the provision of
capitalization support, socially anxious people become less committed to their relationship partner over
time. A reduction in commitment might be a self-protective strategy that reduces anxiety in the short-term
but backfires in terms of increasing the probability of relationship problems and termination. That is, the
self-protective strategies of socially anxious individuals might render seemingly positive behaviors (such
as the generous provision of support) inert and even maladaptive.
In addition to distancing, romantic partners who are not getting their needs met might become
sensitive to their low return on investment. However, developing a tendency to regularly tabulate costs
and benefits is a precarious relationship context compared to devoting attention to shared resources,
goals, and values as this can lessen commitment to the relationship (e.g., Aron & Aron, 1997; Stafford &
Canary, 2006). Researchers can extend the current work with a comprehensive analysis of the
usefulness of different distancing and relationship maintenance strategies, and how social anxiety
moderates their use, costs, and benefits.
One of the benefits of being in a romantic relationship is the opportunity to engage in supportive
acts to self-selected partners. Supportive, kind actions have been shown to be a reliable source of
positive emotions and other facets of well-being (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade, 2005). There is
evidence that providing support and kindness to others provide benefits that often exceed the beneficiary
of these acts (Schwartz, Meisenhelder, Ma, & Reed, 2003; Weinstein & Ryan, 2010). Upon exploring this
in a romantic relationship context, we found that less anxious people who viewed themselves as providing
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support to partners’ capitalization attempts reported the greatest maintenance of relationship satisfaction
and commitment over time. The benefits of providing capitalization support to romantic partners failed to
translate into discernible benefits for socially anxious people.
All of the work to date on social anxiety and reward responsiveness has focused on actors
(Kashdan, 2007; Kashdan et al., 2011). The current results provide evidence that the positivity deficits
linked to social anxiety extend to people in their social network—partners. By simultaneously examining
the perspectives of both members of a couple, we could discern when deficits occur. Future work can
explore the conditions enabling a socially anxious individual to generate a reliable sense of belonging,
competence, meaning, autonomy, and joy in a romantic relationship (for them and their partner) (e.g.,
Fincham & Beach, 2010; LaGuardia, Ryan, Couchman, & Deci, 2000).
Our findings suggest that social anxiety and both elements of capitalization support—receipt and
provision—operate together to understand romantic relationships. Socially anxious people are in a
particularly vulnerable situation by failing to recognize, receive, and/or provide positive behaviors that are
consistently linked to flourishing relationships. What remains to be understood is how socially anxious
people select and shape their social environment, for instance, non-assortive mating and avoidance
regulatory strategies (e.g., fear of expressing positive emotions and events to partners; Turk et al., 2005).
Our findings also suggest that failing to consider the mental health of romantic partners hinders an
understanding of interpersonal processes such as capitalization support. In this study, we focused on
existing romantic relationships but future work is needed on how social anxiety influences the initiation or
failure to initiate romantic relationships. New methodologies such as speed-dating paradigms (Finkel &
Eastwick, 2008) can provide insight into what socially anxious people do that sabotages the onset of
Existing research provides strong evidence that social anxiety is best conceptualized as a
dimensional construct, and definitions of clinically significant severity are arbitrary (e.g., Kollman,Brown,
Liverant, & Hofmann, 2006; Ruscio, 2010; Weeks, Carleton, Asmundson, McCabe, & Antony, 2010). Our
research can thus be viewed as further interpersonal approaches to social anxiety and social anxiety
disorder. We explored the correlates and consequences of social anxiety within a romantic relationship
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context, something that has been largely neglected (Heimberg et al., 2010; Hofmann, 2007). We found
that collecting information from only one member of a romantic partner would lead to several omissions
and erroneous conclusions concerning the consequences of being a socially anxious romantic partner or
having a socially anxious partner.
It has been 28 years since researchers had an individual suffering from an anxiety disorder enter
into treatment with his or her romantic partner (Barlow, O'Brien, & Last, 1984). Theorists with an
interpersonal approach to psychopathology emphasize that relationships are at the core of the etiology,
phenomenology, and maintenance of a seemingly intrapersonal condition. There is no condition that
seems riper for an interpersonal treatment than social anxiety disorder (Alden & Taylor, 2004). Existing
clinical trials of interpersonal therapy (e.g., Lipsitz et. al., 2008; Strangier, Schramm, Heidenreich, Berger,
& Clark, 2011) have found that this treatment modality is equivalent or slightly inferior to classical
cognitive-behavioral interventions (CBT). Alden and Taylor (2011) found that classical cognitive-
behavioral interventions can be enhanced by attempts to directly manipulate the interpersonal patterns of
clients from rigid, cold, and submissive behaviors to an ability to flexibly adapt to changing situational
demands (Kashdan & Rottenberg, 2010). We believe that clients suffering from social anxiety who
happen to be in a stable romantic relationship might comprise a subgroup that benefits more from a
cognitive-behavioral format that incorporates knowledge from relationship science. Targets can include
the identification of capitalization support opportunities and helping in interpreting the social exchange
accurately. Our findings suggest that socially anxious people provide and receive less support in positive
event contexts as rated by self, partner, and trained observers. Thus, people with greater social anxiety
and their partners may especially benefit from relational techniques aimed at establishing and enhancing
positive support behaviors, such as training to allocate attention to positive stimuli (Taylor, Bomyea, &
Nader, 2011) and cognitively restructuring fears of positive evaluation (Fergus et al., 2009). Additionally,
the romantic partners of clients with social anxiety in treatment help sculpt the social environment, which
includes personal and relational goals. Partners attuned to the interpersonal dynamics between them and
the client can increase the treatment dose at minimal cost. The present research serves as an initial
platform to study the healthy relationship behaviors that are potentially neutralized by social anxiety,
whether it is the actor, the partner, or the interaction between them.
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Study Strengths and Limitations
Our findings confirm prior theories of positivity deficits (Kashdan, Weeks, et al., 2011) and
interpersonal dysfunction (Alden & Taylor, 2004) associated with social anxiety. Despite a handful of
studies on social anxiety and close relationships, almost nothing is known about how socially anxious
people and their romantic partners influence each other to predict relationship functioning. As a novel
contribution, we addressed the dynamic interplay between social anxiety and partner levels of social
anxiety and how they influence perceptions of self, perceptions of partner, observed social behavior,
relationship stability, and perceptions of satisfaction in and commitment to the existing relationship.
There were several strengths to our study. First, the large number of our couples in the study
reduced the likelihood of spurious findings. Second, to address methodological limitations in prior
research, we captured the behaviors and perspectives of both partners within a couple, and obtained six
month follow-up data to examine how social anxiety and capitalization support predict changes in
relational outcomes. Importantly, we found that social anxiety had virtually no association with cross-
sectional or longitudinal changes in relationship satisfaction and commitment. It was only through
simultaneous examinations of actor and partner effects for social anxiety and capitalization support did
we find uncover conditions underlying healthy and unhealthy relationships. Third, with the use of three
methodologies to assess capitalization support (self-ratings, partner ratings, observers coding
interactions), we found relatively consistent findings. The only deviation was observer ratings of behavior,
where we found that social anxiety was positively related to two of three forms of dysfunctional
capitalization support (passive-constructive and for women, passive–destructive). Fourth, the romantic
couples studied showed a high level of homogeneity on background variables including relationship
length, education, and socioeconomic status, thus reducing error variance (albeit at the expense of
generalizability). Fifth, we addressed gender main and interactive effects in our models. Prior
researchers have shown that gender influences the severity of social anxiety, willingness to disclose
personal information, and appreciation of intangible support given by other people (e.g., Turk et al.,
1998). In this study, gender had a negligible role in influencing social anxiety or capitalization support,
with the exception that socially anxious women were observed to be more passive-destructive in the
laboratory interaction whereas socially men were observed to be less passive-destructive. Sixth, we
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found evidence that our social anxiety findings could not be accounted for by shared variance with
depressive symptoms; in contrast, depressive symptoms failed to show significant associations with
indices of capitalization support.
Despite these strengths, several caveats should be considered. First, we created our own
measure of provision of capitalization support rather than adapting the PRCA (measuring the receipt of
support). Our newly created measure captures the internal benefits of providing support (e.g., “Hearing
about/responding to good things that happen to my partner makes me feel alive”) whereas the PRCA is
limited to the actions of partners. Despite this difference, both measures demonstrated validity as
evidenced by correlations with relational outcomes and both were inversely related to social anxiety.
Thus, using two different approaches to capture capitalization might lend greater support to the
robustness of the capitalization construct as being relevant to how socially anxious people experience,
act, and benefit from romantic relationships. Second, although the longitudinal component of our study
offers an improvement over cross-sectional work, any conclusions about causality must be speculative
without cross-lagged analyses. That said, we found no evidence that romantic relationship quality
predicted changes in social anxiety (reverse direction). Third, our recruitment of couples was limited to a
college sample selected for social anxiety levels. Notably, 19.5% of our couples had a member who
scored in the clinical range of social anxiety (Brown et al., 1997). Our sample showed acceptable racial,
ethnic, and age diversity. Nonetheless, findings might not generalize and thus require replication using
community and clinical samples.
Several studies have shown that the positivity deficits linked to social anxiety can be improved via
training to allocate attention to positive stimuli (Taylor, Bomyea, & Nader, 2011), pursue approach-
instead of avoidance-oriented social goals (Alden & Taylor, 2011), and cognitively restructure fears of
positive evaluation (Fergus et al., 2009). These studies offer promise that the interpersonal biases and
relationship difficulties associated with social anxiety might be ameliorated with existing interventions.
Future work can address the benefits of conducting interventions that explicitly involve an individual with
social anxiety difficulties and their romantic partner, as we found dysfunctional patterns resulting from the
interplay of one person influencing another.
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Each partner in a romantic relationship yields a unique repertoire of cognitive, emotional, and
behavioral responses that are influenced by individual differences such as social anxiety. Neglecting
individual differences can lead to erroneous conclusions about how and when capitalization support is
linked to healthy relationship outcomes. The addition of capitalization support to the social anxiety
literature offers new insights into an interpersonal approach to psychopathology; the addition of social
anxiety to the capitalization support literature offers new insights into a contextual perspective of
relationships. The next step is to examine the stability of these contextual findings and whether a socially
anxious person with inadequate capitalization support skills is at a disadvantage for forming and
maintaining romantic relationships as well as other close relationships.
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Todd B. Kashdan was financially supported by the Center for Consciousness and
Transformation, George Mason University. We thank Deborah Beidel for comments on an earlier version.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Todd B. Kashdan, Department of
Psychology, MS 3F5, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Social Anxiety and Positive Events 42
Table 1. Means, Standard Deviations, and Internal Consistency Coefficients for, and Zero-Order Relations between Variables
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
1. SIAS - -.14* -.15* -.06 .01 -.12* -.09 .43**
2. Receiving Support - - .20** .35** .28** .17* .21** -.13
3. Providing Support - - - .27** .29** .16** .16** -.18**
4. T1 Satisfaction - - - - .65** .33** .31** -.27**
5. T1 Commitment - - - - - .30** .47** -.13*
6. T2 Satisfaction - - - - - - .79** -.15*
7. T2 Commitment - - - - - - - -.05
8. BDI-II - - - - - - - -
M 17.58 2.50 5.93 7.63 7.78 6.80 7.34 8.41
SD 11.33 1.99 .87 1.49 1.44 2.53 2.06 6.48
α .91 .84 .72 .93 .84 .98 .91 .83
Notes. * p < .05. ** p < .01. Except for the SIAS and BDI-II (where normative data are available), we used mean item scores. T1 = Baseline; T2
= 6-month follow-up; SIAS = Social Interaction Anxiety Scale; Receiving Support = PRCA or Trait Perceived Responses to Capitalization Attempts
Scale; Providing Support = Trait Perceived Provision of Capitalization Support.
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Social Anxiety and Positive Events 43
Figure 1. Interactive effect of a partner’s social anxiety symptoms and perceptions of received capitalization support on changes in relationship
quality (over 6 months)
Notes. Receipt of support was based on self-report and thus indicates perceptions. To ease interpretation, outcome variables reflected difference
scores, subtracting baseline from 6-month follow-up assessments.
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Social Anxiety and Positive Events 44
Figure 2. Interactive effect of social anxiety symptoms and perceptions of provided capitalization support on changes in relationship quality (over
Notes. Provision of support was based on self-report and thus indicates perceptions. To ease interpretation, outcome variables reflected
difference scores, subtracting baseline from 6-month follow-up assessments.
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Social Anxiety and Positive Events 45
Seventeen couples did not have behavioral data for the following reasons: 10 couples had recording
and audio errors preventing coding of the data, five couples failed to attend the second study session,
one couple did not consent to being taped, and one couple broke up prior to the second study session.
Of the 49 participants excluded from the analyses, there were twelve couples who did not provide any
follow-up data (n=24) and 25 couples from which data was obtained from only one partner (n=25).