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Discomfort and avoidance of touch: New insights on the emotional deficits of social anxiety

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Abstract

Physical touch is central to the emotional intimacy that separates romantic relationships from other social contexts. In this study of 256 adults (128 heterosexual couples, mean relationship length = 20.5 months), we examined whether individual differences in social anxiety influenced comfort with and avoidance of physical touch. Because of prior work on sex difference in touch use, touch comfort, and social anxiety symptoms and impairment, we explored sex-specific findings. We found evidence that women with greater social anxiety were less comfortable with touch and more avoidant of touch in same-sex friendships. Additionally, a woman’s social anxiety had a bigger effect on a man’s comfort with touch and avoidance of touch in the romantic relationship than a man’s social anxiety had on the woman’s endorsement of touch-related problems. These effects were uninfluenced by the length of romantic relationships. Touch is a neglected emotional experience that offers new insights into the difficulties of individuals suffering from social anxiety problems, and their romantic partners.

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... This classification is more or less consistently reported in the literature. However, it can differ in varying degree depending on the direction of touch (initiator and receiver), sex of touch initiator and receiver, their cultural background, and emotional bonding [25,54,58], as well as their sexual orientation [14], and individual traits like social anxiety [31,51]. ...
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We present user study results on virtual body contact experience in a two-user VR scenario, in which participants performed different touches with a research assistant. The interaction evoked different emotional reactions in perceived relaxation, happiness, desire, anxiety, disgust, and fear. Congruent to physical social touch, the evaluation of virtual body contact was modulated by intimacy, touch direction, and sex. Further, individual comfort with interpersonal touch was positively associated with perceived relaxation and happiness. We discuss the results regarding implications forfollow-up studies and infer implications for the use of social touch in social VR applications.
... Sebagaimana yang dijelaskan dalam beberapa hasil penelitian bahwa individu dengan kecemasan interaksi sosial mengalami kesulitan dalam membangun hubungan interpersonal yang baru sehingga mudah menimbulkan kebingungan yang diiringi dengan kekacauan struktur kata ketika mereka berusaha mencoba untuk berinteraksi. Hal ini juga didukung dengan serangan kecemasan dan dorongan untuk menghindar yang kuat (Kashdan, 2004;Kashdan, Doorley, Stiksma, & Matthew, 2016;Kashdan & Farmer, 2014). Namun, subjek menunjukkan sikap yang patuh sehingga cenderung submissive ketika diminta oleh figur-figur yang dianggap memiliki otoritas atas dirinya dalam melakukan berbagai macam pekerjaan. ...
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AA (laki-laki/36 tahun) mengalami kesulitan dalam melakukan interaksi sosial sehingga membuatnya jarang berkomunikasi meskipun mampu mengikuti instruksi dengan baik. Berdasarkan hasil asesmen, subjek didiagnosa mengalami gangguan skizofrenia dengan permasalahan kecemasan interaksi sosial sehingga sering menunjukkan perilaku menghindar dan senang berdiam diri di tempat tidur. Pemberian intervensi bertujuan untuk menurunkan kecemasan interaksi sosial subjek sehingga ia mampu dalam menjalin kontak sosial, menginisiasi percakapan dan mempertahankan percakapan. Intervensi diberikan dalam bentuk modifikasi perilaku model desentisasi sistematik. Hasil intervensi menunjukkan bahwa klien mengalami penurunan kecemasan interaksi sosial baik individu dengan individu maupun individu dengan kelompok yang ditandai dengan semakin aktifnya subjek setiap pagi melakukan kontak sosial melalui senyum, salam, sapa, menanyakan kabar dan melanjutkan percakapan. Selain itu, perubahan juga ditandai dengan sikap subjek yang lebih bersahabat ketika melakukan interaksi sosial terutama di dalam kelompok dan peningkatan kemampuan dalam memberikan instruksi di dalam kelompok dimana subjek mampu berperan sebagai pengajar bagi teman-temannya di dalam kelompok meskipun masih cukup kaku dan tegang.
... High social anxiety levels may also impair intimate relationships, such as with close friends, family (Antony & Swinson, 2017) and intimate relationships in general (Kashdan, Doorley, Stiksma, & Hertenstein, 2017). Similarly regarding romantic relationships, young persons with high social anxiety levels were less emotionally expressive, engaged less in self-disclosure, and did not reach high intimacy levels (e.g., Sparrevohn & Rapee, 2009). ...
Article
Objectives: The current study focuses on the association between social anxiety (e.g. fear of social interactions or negative judgment by others) and intimate loneliness (lacking meaningful relationships, i.e. having low quantity/quality of intimate companionship) in older and younger adults. We assessed whether social anxiety, a factor which hampers intimacy, may be associated with intimate loneliness to a greater extent in older adults versus younger adults. Method: Measures of loneliness (Revised UCLA loneliness scale) and social anxiety (Leibowitz social anxiety scale) were obtained from 342 participants (220 younger adults, age = 19–40, and 122 older adults, age = 61–89). Results: Age differences were evident for non-intimate types of loneliness but not for intimate loneliness. Further, older adults were less socially anxious. Critically, the strength of the social anxiety-intimate loneliness link was more robust among older adults. Effects remained significant after controlling for demographic and computer/social media variables. Conclusions: Older adults with high levels of social anxiety displayed greater intimate loneliness relative to younger adults. On a theoretical level, the results reveal that the pruning mechanism of investing more in closer and more rewarding relationships among older adults may be challenged under high social anxiety. The results suggest that older adults with higher intimate loneliness may benefit from interventions aimed at decreasing their social anxiety.
... Nevertheless, touch behaviour and the appreciation or attitude towards touch have been shown to be closely associated: individuals with low self-reported touch exposure (Sailer and Ackerley, 2017) and those with high touch avoidance (Hielscher and Mahar, 2016) appreciate touch to a lesser extent than people who seek and experience tactile interactions more often. Similarly, people suffering from social anxiety exhibit a similar discomfort in response to social touch (Kashdan et al., 2017). ...
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The present study takes a developmental approach to predicting the amount of affectionate communication fathers give their own sons by examining the amount of affection men received from their own fathers. Two developmental orientations are addressed: the modeling hypothesis, which predicts that positive behavior patterns exhibited by parents will be replicated in their children's own parenting, and the compensation hypothesis, which predicts that negative parenting behaviors are compensated for in children's parenting of their own children. We combined these approaches to advance a hybrid prediction that, when applied to affectionate communication, calls for a curvilinear relationship between the affection men received from their own fathers and the affection they give their own sons. Five hundred six men who were fathers of at least one son participated in the current study, and the results provided direct support for a combined modeling‐compensation hypothesis.
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Reviews the literature on gender differences in touch, which is divided into observational studies of touch frequency, people's beliefs about frequency and meaning, data on qualitative differences in touch, and studies of response to touch. The observational studies reveal no overall tendency for males to touch females more than vice versa; a tendency for females to initiate touch more than males; a questionable tendency for females to receive touch more than males; a tendency for more female same-gender touch than male same-gender touch; and a tendency for same-gender dyads to touch more than opposite-gender dyads. Some of these conclusions are debatable, owing to methodological problems. Data dealing with qualitative aspects of touch are too sparse and inconsistent to yield much information about gender differences in the uses or meanings of particular types of touch. The literature shows a tendency for women to respond more positively to touch than men. N. M. Henley's (1977) power hypothesis is discussed as a possible explanatory framework. (67 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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Made a study of touching in public, using a white male student as O, with attention to status variables (sex, race, age, socioeconomic status) and settings. Results support the hypothesis that touch privilege is a correlate of status. The dual nature of touch as a sign of both status and solidarity is compared with R. Brown's 1965 formulation of the similar use of terms of address. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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Previous research has shown that receiving social support in the face of negative events (i.e., enacted support) is sometimes correlated with positive outcomes, sometimes unrelated to outcomes, and sometimes associated with negative outcomes. However, people's perception that they have high-quality support available to them when they have a stressor (i.e., perceived support) is consistently and strongly associated with better health, well-being, and relationship functioning. However, both enacted and perceived support available in response to positive event disclosures are consistently associated with positive outcomes. In 2 studies, we examined why enacted support for negative events has such a spotty record and compared it with enacted support for positive events; a third study examined how support for positive events may be a major contributor to perceived availability of effective support for negative events. The results showed that providing responsive support to negative events is particularly difficult; received support for negative events disclosures (but not positive event disclosures) involves substantial drawbacks and risks, especially when that support is not responsive to the recipient's needs; and that enacted support for positive events was a better predictor of later perceptions of the quality of available support for stressors than enacted support for negative events. Findings are discussed in terms of implications for the social support literature and how positive relationship processes influence health and well-being, not only directly but also indirectly by providing critical information regarding the availability of others if a problem occurs. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved).
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Data collected from both members of a dyad provide abundant opportunities as well as data analytic challenges. The Actor–Partner Interdependence Model (APIM; Kashy & Kenny, 2000) was developed as a conceptual framework for collecting and analyzing dyadic data, primarily by stressing the importance of considering the interdependence that exists between dyad members. The goal of this paper is to detail how the APIM can be implemented in dyadic research, and how its effects can be estimated using hierarchical linear modeling, including PROC MIXED in SAS and HLM (version 5.04; Raudenbush, Bryk, Cheong, & Congdon, 2001). The paper describes the APIM and illustrates how the data set must be structured to use the data analytic methods proposed. It also presents the syntax needed to estimate the model, indicates how several types of interactions can be tested, and describes how the output can be interpreted.
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A measure of comfort with touching was found to predict whether or not subjects would volunteer to participate in an experiment involving hugging strangers of both sexes and also to predict levels of personal space. Among those volunteering to give hugs, subjects reporting greater comfort with touch rated those hugs more positively, but this seemed to reflect a readiness to interpret touch positively rather than any clear differences in the nature of the hug actually given. Earlier findings that women report greater comfort with touch than do men were replicated. It was found that reported touch comfort was directly related to such constructs as satisfaction with life, with oneself, and with one's childhood, as well as to self-confidence, assertiveness, socially acceptable self-presentation, and active rather than passive modes of coping with problems. Touch comfort was inversely related to expressed concerns with touches which might reflect status differentials, homosexuality, or negative affective states. It was concluded that the touch comfort construct reflects the degree of one's openness to expressing intimate behavior, the degree to which one adopts an active, rather than passive, interpersonal style, and the degree to which one's social relationships are satisfactory.
Article
Subjects filled out three touch attitude scales, a measure of recollections of early childhood touch, and a social competence inventory, and then proceeded to record their touches in a log for one week. The touch questionnaires, although correlated with one another, did not predict day-to-day touching as recorded in logs. However, the results also suggest that questionnaire responses (for the one recall measure and two attitude scales) and log records are each independently predictive of social self-confidence. These findings are interpreted to mean that both positive attitudes/remembrances about touch and active engagement in touch behavior are important elements in social competence. Implications for future research are discussed, including the suggestion that the possible effects of skills training in touch on tactile attitudes, touch communication practices, and social self-esteem should be investigated.
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Virtually all previous research on touch avoidance was conducted in the Northeast region of the United States (U.S.). The present study replicated and extended Andersen and Leibowitz'' (1978) research on touch avoidance by testing hypotheses for nearly 4,000 subjects at 40 universities from all socio-cultural regions of the United States. Results confirmed previous research, with the pattern of results at each of 40 universities showing considerable consistency. Opposite sex touch avoidance was higher for females than males, was positively related to communication apprehension, and was negatively related to verbal predispositions to communicate, open communicator style, and self-esteem. Some regional variations were uncovered, but they failed to correspond to political or cultural taxonomies of U.S. regions. Ideas for future research on regional patterns of communication and on touch avoidance are discussed.
Article
Development of two touch-avoidance measures via factor analysis are reported. Touch avoidance is a nonverbal communication predisposition that consists of two dimensions, same-sex touch avoidance and opposite-sex touch avoidance. The results are replicated across two distinct samples with consistent reliability of measurement. Touch avoidance is then related to communication apprehension, self-disclosure, self-esteem, and a series of cultural role variables. The cultural role variables seem to have the greatest relationship with the two measures of touch avoidance. A program for future research on touch avoidance is also discussed.
Article
Interpersonal touch has been little studied empirically as an indicator of parent- and peer-child intimacy. Undergraduate students (n=390) were studied using a questionnaire survey regarding the frequencies of interpersonal touch by father, mother, same-sex peers, and opposite-sex peers during preschool ages, grades 1–3, grades 4–6, and grades 7–9, as well as their current attachment style to a romantic partner and current depression. A path model indicated that current depression was influenced significantly by poorer self- and other-images as well as by fewer parental interpersonal touches throughout childhood. Other-image was influenced by early (up to grade 3) parental interpersonal touch. Our findings suggest that a lower frequency of parental touching during childhood influences the development of depression and contributes to a poorer image of an individual’s romantic partner during later adolescence and early adulthood.
Article
We examined the association between social anxiety and interpersonal functioning. Unlike prior research, we focused specifically on close relationships, given the growing evidence of dysfunction in these relationships among people with psychopathology. We proposed that social anxiety would be associated with specific interpersonal styles. One hundred sixty-eight young adults with a range of social anxiety symptoms were interviewed regarding symptom severity, interpersonal styles, and chronic interpersonal stress. Results indicated that higher levels of social anxiety were associated with interpersonal styles reflecting less assertion, more conflict avoidance, more avoidance of expressing emotion, and greater interpersonal dependency. Moreover, lack of assertion and overreliance on others mediated the association between social anxiety and interpersonal stress. Associations held controlling for depressive symptoms. Implications of these findings for interpersonally oriented conceptualizations of social anxiety disorder are discussed.
Article
The current study examined aspects of communication and intimacy between people with social phobia and their romantic partners. Forty-eight individuals with social phobia and 58 community controls completed a series of questionnaires to measure self-disclosure, emotional expression and levels of intimacy within their romantic relationships. Participants with social phobia reported less emotional expression, self-disclosure and intimacy than controls, even after controlling for a diagnosis of mood disorder. The group differences did not differ significantly by gender. A continuous measure of social anxiety also correlated significantly with the three relationship measures and these associations held for emotional expression and self-disclosure after controlling for levels of dysphoria. People with social phobia report reduced quality within their romantic relationships, which may have implications for impairment, social support and ultimately maintenance of the disorder.
Article
What, exactly, do individuals with social phobia fear? Whereas fear of anxiety-related bodily sensations characterizes and defines panic disorder, is there a fundamental focus of anxiety that unifies individuals under the diagnostic category of social phobia? Current conceptualizations of social phobia suggest several possible candidates, including the fear of negative evaluation, embarrassment, and loss of social status. However, it is argued here that these conceptualizations are fundamentally flawed and confusing, and the lack of clarity with respect to this question has hampered our ability to conceptualize and treat patients with social phobia in a manner that is tailored to individual differences in symptom presentation. In the present article, I will propose a novel conceptualization of core fear in social phobia, demonstrate how this conceptualization can be used to classify individuals with social phobia in a manner that eliminates confusion and accounts for symptom heterogeneity, and illustrate its potential utility for both clinical practice and research.
Article
This study examined gender differences among persons with lifetime social anxiety disorder (SAD). Data were derived from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (n=43,093), a survey of a representative community sample of the United States adult population. Diagnoses of psychiatric disorders were based on the Alcohol Use Disorder and Associated Disabilities Interview Schedule-DSM-IV Version. The lifetime prevalence of SAD was 4.20% for men and 5.67% for women. Among respondents with lifetime SAD, women reported more lifetime social fears and internalizing disorders and were more likely to have received pharmacological treatment for SAD, whereas men were more likely to fear dating, have externalizing disorders, and use alcohol and illicit drugs to relieve symptoms of SAD. Recognizing these differences in clinical symptoms and treatment-seeking of men and women with SAD may be important for optimizing screening strategies and enhancing treatment efficacy for SAD.
Article
Diminished positive experiences and events might be part of the phenomenology of social anxiety; however, much of this research is cross-sectional by design, limiting our understanding of the everyday lives of socially anxious people. Sexuality is a primary source of positive experiences. We theorized that people with elevated social anxiety would have relatively less satisfying sexual experiences compared to those who were not anxious. For 21 days, 150 college students described their daily sexual episodes. Social anxiety was negatively related to the pleasure and feelings of connectedness experienced when sexually intimate. The relationship between social anxiety and the amount of sexual contact differed between men and women-it was negative for women and negligible for men. Being in a close, intimate relationship enhanced the feelings of connectedness during sexual episodes for only individuals low in social anxiety. Depressive symptoms were negatively related to the amount of sexual contact, and the pleasure and feelings of connectedness experienced when sexually intimate. Controlling for depressive symptoms did not meaningfully change the social anxiety effects on daily sexuality. Our findings suggest that fulfilling sexual activity is often compromised by social anxiety.
Article
We reanalyzed a data set consisting of a U.S. undergraduate sample (N = 212) from a previous study (Hertenstein et al. 2006a) that showed that touch communicates distinct emotions between humans. In the current reanalysis, we found that anger was communicated at greater-than-chance levels only when a male comprised at least one member of a communicating dyad. Sympathy was communicated at greater-than-chance levels only when a female comprised at least one member of the dyad. Finally, happiness was communicated only if females comprised the entire dyad. The current analysis demonstrates gender asymmetries in the accuracy of communicating distinct emotions via touch between humans.
Article
According to the prevailing cultural stereotype as well as various psychological theories, empathy (the vicarious affective response to another person's feelings) is more prevalent in females than in males. A review of the research indicates that females do indeed appear to be more empathic than males. They do not appear to be more adept at assessing another person's affective, cognitive, or spatial perspective, however. There is also evidence to suggest that empathy in females may be part of a prosocial affective orientation that includes the tendency to experience guilt over harming others, but it does not, at least in early childhood, appear to be part of a larger interpersonal sensitivity that includes egocentric concerns about the feelings of others toward the self. It is suggested that females may have greater tendency to imagine themelves in the other's place, whereas males have more of a set toward instrumental ameliorative action. (71 ref)
Article
The development and validation of the Social Phobia Scale (SPS) and the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale (SIAS) two companion measures for assessing social phobia fears is described. The SPS assesses fear of being scrutinised during routine activities (eating, drinking, writing, etc.), while the SIAS assesses fear of more general social interaction, the scales corresponding to the DSM-III-R descriptions of Social Phobia--Circumscribed and Generalised types, respectively. Both scales were shown to possess high levels of internal consistency and test-retest reliability. They discriminated between social phobia, agoraphobia and simple phobia samples, and between social phobia and normal samples. The scales correlated well with established measures of social anxiety, but were found to have low or non-significant (partial) correlations with established measures of depression, state and trait anxiety, locus of control, and social desirability. The scales were found to change with treatment and to remain stable in the face of no-treatment. It appears that these scales are valid, useful, and easily scored measures for clinical and research applications, and that they represent an improvement over existing measures of social phobia.
Article
Touch is an important form of social interaction, and one that can have powerful emotional consequences. Appropriate touch can be calming, while inappropriate touch can be anxiety provoking. To examine the impact of social touching, this study compared socially high-anxious (N=48) and low-anxious (N=47) women's attitudes concerning social touch, as well as their affective and physiological responses to a wrist touch by a male experimenter. Compared to low-anxious participants, high-anxious participants reported greater anxiety to a variety of social situations involving touch. Consistent with these reports, socially anxious participants reacted to the experimenter's touch with markedly greater increases in self-reported anxiety, self-consciousness, and embarrassment. Physiologically, low-anxious and high-anxious participants showed a distinct pattern of sympathetic-parasympathetic coactivation, as reflected by decreased heart rate and tidal volume, and increased respiratory sinus arrhythmia, skin conductance, systolic/diastolic blood pressure, stroke volume, and respiratory rate. Interestingly, physiological responses were comparable in low and high-anxious groups. These findings indicate that social anxiety is accompanied by heightened aversion towards social situations that involve touch, but this enhanced aversion and negative-emotion report is not reflected in differential physiological responding.
Article
A sample of 222 undergraduates was screened for high happiness using multiple confirming assessment filters. We compared the upper 10% of consistently very happy people with average and very unhappy people. The very happy people were highly social, and had stronger romantic and other social relationships than less happy groups. They were more extraverted, more agreeable, and less neurotic, and scored lower on several psychopathology scales of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. Compared with the less happy groups, the happiest respondents did not exercise significantly more, participate in religious activities significantly more, or experience more objectively defined good events. No variable was sufficient for happiness, but good social relations were necessary. Members of the happiest group experienced positive, but not ecstatic, feelings most of the time, and they reported occasional negative moods. This suggests that very happy people do have a functioning emotion system that can react appropriately to life events.
Article
Clinical observation suggests that social phobia is characterised by eye avoidance in social interaction, reflecting an exaggerated social sensitivity. These reports are consistent with cognitive models of social phobia that emphasize the role of interpersonal processing biases. Yet, these observations have not been verified empirically, nor has the psychophysiological basis of eye avoidance been examined. This is the first study to use an objective psychophysiological marker of visual attention (the visual scanpath) to examine directly how social phobia subjects process interpersonal (facial expression) stimuli. An infra-red corneal reflection technique was used to record visual scanpaths in response to neutral, happy and sad face stimuli in 15 subjects with social phobia, and 15 age and sex-matched normal controls. The social phobia subjects showed an avoidance of facial features, particularly the eyes, but extensive scanning of non-features, compared with the controls. These findings suggest that attentional strategies for the active avoidance of salient facial features are an important marker of interpersonal cues in social phobia. Visual scanpath evidence may, therefore, have important implications for clinical intervention.
Article
The study of emotional signaling has focused almost exclusively on the face and voice. In 2 studies, the authors investigated whether people can identify emotions from the experience of being touched by a stranger on the arm (without seeing the touch). In the 3rd study, they investigated whether observers can identify emotions from watching someone being touched on the arm. Two kinds of evidence suggest that humans can communicate numerous emotions with touch. First, participants in the United States (Study 1) and Spain (Study 2) could decode anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy via touch at much-better-than-chance levels. Second, fine-grained coding documented specific touch behaviors associated with different emotions. In Study 3, the authors provide evidence that participants can accurately decode distinct emotions by merely watching others communicate via touch. The findings are discussed in terms of their contributions to affective science and the evolution of altruism and cooperation.
Article
Although touch is one of the most neglected modalities of communication, several lines of research bear on the important communicative functions served by the modality. The authors highlighted the importance of touch by reviewing and synthesizing the literatures pertaining to the communicative functions served by touch among humans, nonhuman primates, and rats. In humans, the authors focused on the role that touch plays in emotional communication, attachment, bonding, compliance, power, intimacy, hedonics, and liking. In nonhuman primates, the authors examined the relations among touch and status, stress, reconciliation, sexual relations, and attachment. In rats, the authors focused on the role that touch plays in emotion, learning and memory, novelty seeking, stress, and attachment. The authors also highlighted the potential phylogenetic and ontogenetic continuities and discussed suggestions for future research.
Article
Cognitive models emphasize that patients with social anxiety disorder (SAD) are mainly characterized by biased perception of their social performance. In addition, there is a growing body of evidence showing that SAD patients suffer from actual deficits in social interaction. To unravel what characterizes SAD patients the most, underestimation of social performance (defined as the discrepancy between self-perceived and observer-perceived social performance), or actual (observer-perceived) social performance, 48 patients with SAD and 27 normal control participants were observed during a speech and conversation. Consistent with the cognitive model of SAD, patients with SAD underestimated their social performance relative to control participants during the two interactions, but primarily during the speech. Actual social performance deficits were clearly apparent in the conversation but not in the speech. In conclusion, interactions that pull for more interpersonal skills, like a conversation, elicit more actual social performance deficits whereas, situations with a performance character, like a speech, bring about more cognitive distortions in patients with SAD.
Measurement of tactile response and tactile perception
  • C Brown
  • D L Filion
  • S J Weiss
Brown, C., Filion, D. L., & Weiss, S. J. (2011). Measurement of tactile response and tactile perception. In M. J. Hertenstein, S. J. Weiss, M. J. Hertenstein, & S. J. Weiss (Eds.), The handbook of touch: Neuroscience, behavioral, and health perspectives (pp. 219-244). New York: Springer.
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Field, T. (2014). Touch. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
The touch avoidance measure
  • P A Andersen
Andersen, P. A. (2005). The touch avoidance measure. In V. Manusov (Ed.), The sourcebook of nonverbal measures: Going beyond words (pp. 57-65). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.