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Academic achievement at the cost of ambition: The mixed results of a supportive, interactive environment on socially anxious teenagers

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Abstract

Social anxiety impacts functional impairment in several life domains; in children, the most notable effect is a decline in academic performance. Socially anxious children report that communicating with peers and teachers, as well as public speaking are their biggest fears in academic settings. Prior research has shown that these children attribute a lack of academic achievement to difficulties communicating interpersonally or publicly. For apprehensive children, many resources are devoted to interventions at the individual level, with little consideration given to their environment - the classroom. The current study examined the association between communication apprehension, social features of the classroom environment, and academic outcomes - current achievement and future ambitions. Three out of four classroom environmental factors (promoting interaction, promoting respect, and teacher support) buffered the negative effects of communication apprehension on current academic achievement. Interestingly, these same factors increased the negative effects of communication apprehension on future academic ambition (intentions to attend college). Implications for the mixed results of a classroom environment that encourages communication are discussed.

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A translated version of the Personal Report of Communication Apprehension was administered to 688 students at four Chinese colleges and universities. The data were compared with American norms established by McCroskey in 1982 and with the responses of 177 students at a large state university in Florida. The Chinese sample reported a significantly higher mean score on apprehension about communication than the Americans. The findings were discussed with reference to cultural differences.
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Although well-used and empirically supported, the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale (SIAS) has a questionable factor structure and includes reverse-scored items with questionable utility. Here, using samples of undergraduates and a sample of clients with social anxiety disorder, we extend previous work that opened the question of whether the reverse-scored items belong on the scale. First, we successfully confirmed the factor structure obtained in previous samples. Second, we found the reverse-scored items to show consistently weaker relationships with a variety of comparison measures. Third, we demonstrated that removing the reverse-scored questions generally helps rather than hinders the psychometric performance of the SIAS total score. Fourth, we found that the reverse-scored items show a strong relationship with the normal personality characteristic of extraversion, suggesting that the reverse-scored items may primarily assess extraversion. Given the above results, we suggest investigators consider performing data analyses using only the straightforwardly worded items of the SIAS.
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