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Understanding how individuals with varying levels of social anxiety respond to daily positive events is important. Psychological processes that increase positive emotions are being widely used as strategies to not only enhance well-being but also reduce the symptoms and impairment tied to negative emotional dispositions and conditions, including excessive social anxiety. At present, it is unclear whether and how levels of social anxiety impact the psychological benefits derived from momentary positive events. We used ecological momentary assessment to examine the impact of trait social anxiety on momentary changes in emotions, sense of belonging, and social approach versus avoidance motivation following positive events in daily life. Over the course of a week, people with elevated social anxiety experienced greater momentary anxiety and social avoidance motivation and lower momentary happiness and sense of belonging on average. Despite these impairments, individuals with elevated social anxiety experienced greater psychological benefits-in the form of reduced anxiety and motivation to avoid social situations, and an increased sense of belonging-following positive events during the past hour that were rated as particularly intense. This pattern of findings was not specific to social anxiety, with evidence of similar effects for other forms of internalizing psychopathology (general anxiety and depression). These observations detail circumstances in which individuals with social anxiety, and other emotional disturbances, can thrive-creating potentially important targets for intervention. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).
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Emotion
The Momentary Benefits of Positive Events for
Individuals With Elevated Social Anxiety
James D. Doorley, Fallon R. Goodman, David J. Disabato, Todd B. Kashdan, Jennifer S. Weinstein,
and Alexander J. Shackman
Online First Publication, January 16, 2020. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000725
CITATION
Doorley, J. D., Goodman, F. R., Disabato, D. J., Kashdan, T. B., Weinstein, J. S., & Shackman, A. J.
(2020, January 16). The Momentary Benefits of Positive Events for Individuals With Elevated Social
Anxiety. Emotion. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000725
The Momentary Benefits of Positive Events for Individuals With Elevated
Social Anxiety
James D. Doorley, Fallon R. Goodman,
David J. Disabato, and Todd B. Kashdan
George Mason University
Jennifer S. Weinstein and Alexander J. Shackman
University of Maryland, College Park
Understanding how individuals with varying levels of social anxiety respond to daily positive events is
important. Psychological processes that increase positive emotions are being widely used as strategies to
not only enhance well-being but also reduce the symptoms and impairment tied to negative emotional
dispositions and conditions, including excessive social anxiety. At present, it is unclear whether and how
levels of social anxiety impact the psychological benefits derived from momentary positive events. We
used ecological momentary assessment to examine the impact of trait social anxiety on momentary
changes in emotions, sense of belonging, and social approach versus avoidance motivation following
positive events in daily life. Over the course of a week, people with elevated social anxiety experienced
greater momentary anxiety and social avoidance motivation and lower momentary happiness and sense
of belonging on average. Despite these impairments, individuals with elevated social anxiety experienced
greater psychological benefits—in the form of reduced anxiety and motivation to avoid social situations,
and an increased sense of belonging—following positive events during the past hour that were rated as
particularly intense. This pattern of findings was not specific to social anxiety, with evidence of similar
effects for other forms of internalizing psychopathology (general anxiety and depression). These
observations detail circumstances in which individuals with social anxiety, and other emotional distur-
bances, can thrive— creating potentially important targets for intervention.
Keywords: ecological momentary assessment, emotion, experience sampling method, positive affect,
social anxiety
Supplemental materials: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000725.supp
Individuals with elevated levels of social anxiety are prone to
frequent, excessive fear and avoidance of social interactions and
other situations that carry the potential for social scrutiny (e.g.,
Rapee & Heimberg, 1997). There is growing evidence that indi-
viduals with elevated social anxiety also have deficits in positive
affect. Research using diary techniques and other retrospective
methods shows that individuals with elevated social anxiety tend
to experience blunted positive affect and, in some cases, report
fewer and less intense positive events (Blanco & Joormann, 2017;
T. A. Brown, Chorpita, & Barlow, 1998; Farmer & Kashdan,
2012; Geyer et al., 2018; Kashdan, 2002, 2007; Kashdan & Breen,
2008; Kashdan & Collins, 2010; Kashdan & Steger, 2006; Kash-
dan, Weeks, & Savostyanova, 2011). For example, Farmer and
Kashdan (2012) used 2 weeks of diary data to demonstrate that
individuals with higher levels of social anxiety report significantly
less intense positive affect in their daily lives. In the laboratory,
individuals with elevated social anxiety have been shown to ex-
perience distress in response to normatively rewarding social in-
teractions, such as receiving positive feedback from an unfamiliar
but warm and personable confederate (e.g., Kashdan & Roberts,
2006; Wallace & Alden, 1997; Weeks, Heimberg, Rodebaugh, &
Norton, 2008).
Other research motivates the hypothesis that individuals with
elevated social anxiety can derive enhanced emotional benefits—
that is, a steeper reduction in negative affect—from positive events
compared to those with low social anxiety. Using a daily diary
approach, Kashdan and colleagues (2014) showed that individuals
James D. Doorley, Fallon R. Goodman, XDavid J. Disabato, and Todd
B. Kashdan, Department of Psychology, George Mason University; Jen-
nifer S. Weinstein and Alexander J. Shackman, Department of Psychology
and Neuroscience, University of Maryland, College Park.
James D. Doorley, David J. Disabato, and Fallon R. Goodman designed the
analytic strategy. James D. Doorley and David J. Disabato performed analyses.
James D. Doorley drafted the article and created tables with assistance and
feedback from all authors. David J. Disabato created the figures. Alexander J.
Shackman and Jennifer S. Weinstein designed the study and collected data.
Todd B. Kashdan and Alexander J. Shackman supervised and funded the
work, respectively. All of the authors edited the article and approved the final
version. The data featured in this report are available via the Open Science
Framework (https://osf.io/b83rv/). This work was supported by the National
Institutes of Health (DA040717 and MH107444) and the University of Mary-
land. The authors acknowledge the assistance of Kathryn DeYoung, Laura
Friedman, and members of the Affective and Translational Neuroscience
laboratory as well as critical feedback from J. Hur and M. Barstead.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to James D.
Doorley, Department of Psychology, George Mason University, 4400
University Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030. E-mail: jddoorley@gmail.com
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Emotion
© 2020 American Psychological Association 2020, Vol. 1, No. 999, 000
ISSN: 1528-3542 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000725
1
with higher levels of social anxiety experience larger reductions in
anxiety on days following especially pleasurable and intimate
sexual experiences. Indirect support for this hypothesis comes
from evidence that individuals with low levels of well-being or
high levels of depression—features characteristic of many individ-
uals with extreme social anxiety (e.g., Eng, Coles, Heimberg, &
Safren, 2005; Kashdan, 2007; Stein & Kean, 2000)—tend to profit
more from positive daily events, as indexed by larger decreases in
negative affect and larger increases in positive affect (Bylsma,
Taylor-Clift, & Rottenberg, 2011; Lamers et al., 2018; Grosse
Rueschkamp, Kuppens, Riediger, Blanke, & Brose, 2018; Thomp-
son et al., 2012). Whether individuals with elevated social anxiety
show similar “mood-brightening” effects (Rottenberg, 2017) re-
mains unknown.
In the present study, we used smartphone ecological momentary
assessment (EMA) to intensively sample changes in mood (hap-
piness and anxiety), sense of belonging, and social motivation
(approach and avoidance) in the daily lives of 125 young adults.
Prior to the EMA portion of the study, participants completed
measures of trait social anxiety, general anxiety, and depression.
At each assessment, participants also rated the intensity of their
most positive event during the past hour, enabling us to assess
momentary perceptions of naturally occurring, subjectively posi-
tive events. Because EMA data are captured in the real world, in
real time, they circumvent many of the biases that can distort
retrospective reports and provide insights into how emotional
experience dynamically changes in response to positive events
(Barrett, 1997; Lay, Gerstorf, Scott, Pauly, & Hoppmann, 2017;
Stone, Shiffman, Atienza, & Nebeling, 2007). We focused on
young adulthood because it is a time of profound, often stressful
developmental transitions (e.g., moving away from home, forging
new social relationships; Arnett, 2000; Hays & Oxley, 1986). In
fact, more than half of undergraduate students report overwhelm-
ing anxiety (American College Health Association, 2016), with
many experiencing the first onset or recurrence of internalizing
disorders during this period (Auerbach et al., 2016, 2018; Kessler,
Chiu, Demler, Merikangas, & Walters, 2005; Russell & Shaw,
2009; Vos et al., 2016). In particular, young adults with elevated
social anxiety tend to experience substantial distress and impair-
ment and are more likely to develop a range of psychological
disorders (Merikangas, Avenevoli, Acharyya, Zhang, & Angst,
2002).
Using these data, we tested the following hypotheses:
Hypothesis 1: Consistent with decades of emotion research,
we expected that positive events from the previous hour that
are rated as more intense will enhance momentary mood
(increase happiness, decrease anxiety), sense of belonging,
and social motivation (increase approach, decrease avoidance;
e.g., Rolls, 2018).
Hypothesis 2: Consistent with prior work by our group and
others (e.g., T. A. Brown et al., 1998; Geyer et al., 2018;
Kashdan & Collins, 2010; Kashdan & Steger, 2006; Kashdan
et al., 2011), we anticipated that elevated social anxiety will be
associated with lower average levels of happiness, social
belonging, and social approach motivation, and higher aver-
age levels of anxiety and social avoidance motivation. We also
expected that individuals with elevated trait social anxiety
would perceive positive events during the past hour as less
intense.
Hypothesis 3a: Based on findings from positivity deficit re-
search in social anxiety (e.g., Kashdan, 2007; Wallace &
Alden, 1997; Weeks et al., 2008), it may be that individuals
with elevated social anxiety derive smaller psychological ben-
efits from positive events (i.e., attenuated improvements in
mood, sense of belonging, and social motivation).
Hypothesis 3b: In contrast, recent research on social anxiety
and other emotional disturbances motivates the competing
hypothesis that individuals with elevated social anxiety will
derive larger psychological benefits (i.e., amplified improve-
ments in mood, social belonging, and social motivation) fol-
lowing momentary positive events (e.g., Kashdan et al., 2014;
Morgan et al., 2017; Rottenberg, 2017).
Exploratory Hypothesis 4: To test for the specificity of the
hypothesized effects of social anxiety, we collected data on
trait levels of general anxiety and depression and explored
whether scores on each measure impacted the psychological
benefits of momentary positive events (cf. Conway et al.,
2019).
Understanding how individuals with varying levels of social
anxiety respond to daily positive events is important. Psycholog-
ical processes that increase positive emotions are being widely
used as strategies to not only enhance well-being but also reduce
the symptoms and impairment tied to negative emotional disposi-
tions and conditions, including excessive social anxiety (e.g.,
Quoidbach, Mikolajczak, & Gross, 2015; Taylor, Lyubomirsky, &
Stein, 2017). At present, it is unclear whether and how levels of
social anxiety impact the psychological benefits derived from
momentary positive events. Addressing this question should help
propel the field forward by providing clues about etiology, iden-
tifying potentially modifiable targets (e.g., positive event exposure
and appraisal), and informing the development of more effective
interventions for individuals at increased risk for developing social
anxiety and related disorders.
Method
Participants and Procedure
As part of an ongoing program of research focused on the
etiology of mood and anxiety disorders, 2,501 individuals com-
pleted screening measures of negative emotionality—the propen-
sity to experience and express more frequent, intense, and endur-
ing anxiety, worry, and other negative emotions (Shackman et al.,
2016, 2018)—in exchange for course extra credit. Data from the
screening assessment were stratified by tertile (high, medium, low)
and sex (male, female). For the EMA study, 133 university stu-
dents with consistent smartphone access were independently and
randomly recruited via e-mail from each of the resulting six strata,
enabling us to sample a broad spectrum of social anxiety without
gaps or discontinuities.
Eight participants were excluded from data analysis: Six were
excluded for insufficient compliance with the EMA protocol
(50% completed assessments) and two were excluded because of
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2DOORLEY ET AL.
missing social anxiety data. Thus, the final sample was comprised
of 125 participants (50.4% women; 53.2% White, 16.1% Asian,
12.9% Black, 11.3% multiracial/other, and 6.5% Hispanic). The
mean age was 19.3 years old (SD 1.6). The final sample did not
differ significantly from the initial screening sample on demo-
graphics. At enrollment, participants provided written informed
consent, were trained on the EMA protocol, and completed trait
measures of social anxiety, general anxiety, and depression.
SurveySignal (Hofmann & Patel, 2015) was used to deliver 10
text messages per day to each subject’s smartphone. Messages
were delivered between 8:30 a.m. and 11:00 p.m., with 1 to 2 hr
between successive messages (M86.5 min, SD 14.7 min).
Surveys took an average of 3.25 min to complete (SD 5.65 min).
During weekday hours, messages were delivered between regu-
larly scheduled university courses to maximize compliance. Mes-
sages contained a link to a secure online survey. Participants were
instructed to respond within 30 min of receiving the message and
cautioned to avoid responding at unsafe or inconvenient moments
(median response latency 8.78 min, SD 15.85 min). At
enrollment, several well-established procedures were used to max-
imize compliance (Palmier-Claus et al., 2011). These procedures
included (a) delivering a test message to the subject’s phone in the
laboratory and confirming that they were able to successfully
complete the online survey, (b) providing subjects with a 24/7
technical support number, (c) 24-hr and 72-hr check-in calls or
e-mails, (d) real-time monitoring of compliance using the Survey-
Signal dashboard and recontacting subjects showing low levels of
compliance, and (e) monetary bonuses for increased compliance.
Participants were debriefed and compensated after the seventh day
of data collection. In the final sample, EMA compliance was
acceptable (M79%, SD 11%) and unrelated to social anxiety
(r.04, p.66). Participants provided informed written consent
and the University of Maryland’s Institutional Review Board ap-
proved all procedures.
Trait Measures
Social anxiety. Trait-level social anxiety symptoms were as-
sessed using the 19-item Social Interaction Anxiety Scale (SIAS;
Mattick & Clarke, 1998). Items assess fear and avoidance of social
interactions using a 5-point Likert scale (1 not at all charac-
teristic of me;5extremely characteristic of me). Sample items
include “I worry about expressing myself in case I appear awk-
ward,” “I find myself worrying that I won’t know what to say in
social situations,” and “I feel tense if I am alone with just one other
person.” The SIAS reliably discriminates individuals with social
anxiety disorder from those with other anxiety disorders (E. J.
Brown et al., 1997; Cox, Ross, Swinson, & Direnfeld, 1998) and
shows excellent psychometric properties (Rodebaugh, Woods,
Heimberg, Liebowitz, & Schneier, 2006). Reliability was accept-
able in the present sample (␣⫽.96).
General anxiety. Trait-level general anxiety symptoms were
assessed using the 10-item trait anxiety scale from the Interna-
tional Personality Item Pool (IPIP; 2001), which provides a variety
of freely available, expert-developed scales of personality and
individual differences. Items assess symptoms of general trait
anxiety using a 5-point Likert scale (1 very inaccurate;5very
accurate). Sample items include “I worry about things” and “I am
relaxed most of the time.” The Trait Anxiety scale of the IPIP
demonstrates strong test–retest reliability (r.91; see DiBattista
& Gosse, 2006) and strong, positive correlations with other mea-
sures of anxiety (e.g., the Revised NEO Personality Inventory
Anxiety scale; Costa & MacCrae, 1992; Goldberg, 1999). Reli-
ability was acceptance in the present sample (␣⫽.81).
Depression. Trait-level depression symptoms were assessed
using the 20-item General Depression scale from the Inventory for
Depression and Anxiety (IDAS; Watson et al., 2007). Items assess
symptoms of depression on a 5-point Likert scale (1 not at all;
5extremely). Sample items include “I felt depressed” and “I felt
inadequate.” The General Depression scale has acceptable test–
retest reliability over 1 week (r.84; Watson et al., 2007), strong
criterion validity with Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders (4th ed.; DSM–IV; American Psychiatric Association,
1994) diagnoses of major depression, and strong incremental va-
lidity in predicting DSM–IV depressive disorder diagnoses above
and beyond the Beck Depression Inventory-II (Watson et al.,
2008). Reliability was acceptable in the present sample (␣⫽.89).
EMA Survey
Happiness (cheerful, happy, joyful), anxiety (anxious, nervous,
worried), sense of belonging (acceptance, connectedness), and
social approach/avoidance motivation (want to be with other peo-
ple, want to be alone) were rated usinga1(not at all)to5(very)
scale. Participants also recorded their best (most positive) event in
the past hour with a brief, one-to-three-word response. Common
positive events included, “watching TV,” “working out,” “walk-
ing,” “showering,” “seeing friends,” “napping,” and “relaxing.”
Participants then rated the intensity of their most positive event
during the past hour using the same 5-point scale.
EMA Data Reduction
Given strong within-person correlations between cheerful, joy-
ful, and happy (rs.84 –.89) and nervous, anxious, and uneasy
(rs.75–.79), we created composite Happiness and Anxiety
scales. We used procedures outlined by Lane and Shrout (2010) to
compute within-person scale reliability across repeated measure-
ments for these three-item composite scales. Both the happiness
(R
CN
.88) and anxiety (R
CN
.82) scales demonstrated accept-
able reliability. We also combined momentary perceived social
acceptance and connectedness items to form a composite measure
of sense of belonging. There is disagreement in the literature
regarding best practices for calculating reliability for two-item
scales (e.g., Eisinga, Grotenhuis, & Pelzer, 2013), so we calculated
a simple within-person correlation between the two scale items
across time points (r.60).
Data Analytic Strategy
Analyses were conducted using R Version 3.6.1 (R Core Team,
2019). For primary analyses, data were hierarchically nested in
two-level models with momentary observations (Level 1) nested
within people (Level 2). Although momentary observations were
theoretically nested within days, then within people, a likelihood
ratio test revealed that including the random effect for days did not
significantly improve model fit (
2
0, df 6, p1.00). Thus,
we chose the more parsimonious two-level model. All models
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3
SOCIAL ANXIETY AND RESPONSES TO POSITIVE EVENTS
were analyzed using maximum likelihood estimation. All Level 1
predictors were person mean-centered prior to analyses. This ap-
proach captured the within-person effect of the hourly predictors,
while parsing out variance attributed to between-person differ-
ences.
We examined whether positive events perceived as more intense
predicted changes in momentary mood (increase happiness, de-
crease anxiety), sense of belonging (acceptance, connectedness),
and social motivation (increase approach, decrease avoidance).
We also tested whether trait levels of social anxiety moderated
associations between the intensity of positive events and changes
in each outcome. General anxiety and depression were entered as
moderators in exploratory analyses (all moderators were at Level
2 and centered at the grand mean). To measure hourly change in
outcomes, we included a time-lagged version of each outcome as
a covariate in all models (i.e., outcome scores an hour earlier,
before the positive events occurred). When creating lagged vari-
ables, the first observation of each day was coded as missing to
correct for the longer overnight time lapse. Collectively, this
resulted in random effects attributable to (a) day-to-day intercept
differences, (b) person-to-person intercept differences, (c) person-
to-person slope differences, and (d) relations between person-to-
person intercept differences and slope differences. Standardized
() effects are reported for moderation and simple slope analyses.
Results
Descriptive Statistics
Descriptive statistics are presented in Table 1. The mean score
on the SIAS was 26.39 (SD 18.17; range 64), consistent with
other samples of undergraduates recruited based on negative emo-
tionality (e.g., Adkins, Weathers, McDevitt-Murphy, & Daniels,
2008). Mean levels of momentary anxiety (scored on a 5-point
Likert scale) were slightly lower than anticipated (M1.76) given
that dispositional negativity was normally distributed in the pres-
ent sample. However, baseline levels of dispositional negativity, or
any other trait, do not guarantee elevated manifestations of that
trait at the momentary level over a single week. Further, although
we selected participants to obtain normally distributed scores on
dispositional negativity, this was neither an extreme groups design
(with very high dispositional negativity exclusively) nor a clinical
sample, so lower mean scores should not be considered abnormal.
Other mean scores fell within expected ranges.
Primary Hypothesis Testing
Consistent with Hypothesis 1, positive events rated as more
intense during the past hour were associated with adaptive changes
in momentary mood (increased happiness, decreased anxiety),
sense of belonging, and social motivation (increased approach,
decreased avoidance) after controlling for these outcomes at the
prior assessment (see Table 2).
Hypothesis 2 was partially supported. Social anxiety predicted
worsened momentary mood (decreased happiness and increased
anxiety), a lower sense of belonging, and greater social avoidance
motivation. Contrary to our hypothesis, social anxiety was not
associated with the intensity of momentary positive events (see
Table 2). A similar pattern of results emerged when examining
between-person correlations between social anxiety and momen-
tary outcomes. Contrary to our hypothesis, there was only a weak
negative correlation between social anxiety and the intensity of
positive events (see Table 1).
Lastly, we found support for Hypothesis 3b. Results showed that
social anxiety amplified associations between the intensity of
positive events during the past hour and momentary anxiety, sense
of belonging, and social avoidance motivation (Table 2, Figure 1).
Although individuals with elevated trait social anxiety reported
higher levels of momentary anxiety on average, analyses of simple
slopes revealed a significantly larger reduction in anxiety follow-
ing more intense positive events (see Table 3). The same pattern
was evident for sense of belonging and social avoidance motiva-
tion. Although individuals with elevated social anxiety reported
lower average levels of sense of belonging, simple slopes analyses
Table 1
Between- and Within-Person Correlations and Descriptive Statistics for Study Variables
Measure 123456789
States
1. PE intensity .39 .16 .31 .16 .18 N/A N/A N/A
2. Happiness .41 .32 .72 .39 .39 N/A N/A N/A
3. Anxiety .09 .22 — .21 .11 .24 N/A N/A N/A
4. Sense of belonging .42 .88 .20 .39 .39 N/A N/A N/A
5. Social approach .10 .39 .02 .47 .52 N/A N/A N/A
6. Social avoidance .01 .20 .55 .20 .11 N/A N/A N/A
Traits
7. Social anxiety .05 .29 .42 .32 .11 .45 — N/A N/A
8. General anxiety .05 .28 .46 .24 .12 .42 .65 N/A
9. Depression .03 .40 .51 .39 .22 .36 .53 .63
Descriptives
M3.45 3.09 1.76 3.16 2.79 2.18 26.39 29.64 42.95
SD 1.21 1.16 .91 1.14 1.32 1.26 18.17 6.97 11.28
ICC .33 .51 .39 .44 .40 .33 1.00 1.00 1.00
Note. Coefficients below the diagonal represent between-person correlations. Coefficients above the diagonal represent within-person correlations.
Because social anxiety is a trait-level measure, there are no within-person correlations. PE intensity intensity of the most positive event during the past
hour; N/A no within-person correlations available for between-person measures; ICC intraclass correlation.
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4DOORLEY ET AL.
revealed a significantly larger increase in sense of belonging
following more intense positive events (see Table 3). Likewise,
although individuals with elevated social anxiety reported greater
social avoidance motivation, on average, analyses of simple slopes
revealed a significantly larger reduction in social avoidance moti-
vation following more intensely positive events during the past
hour (see Table 3). Social anxiety did not significantly influence
the impact of positive events on momentary happiness or social
approach motivation.
Exploratory Hypothesis Testing
We tested whether the observed effects were specific to social
anxiety by running similar moderation models as above but re-
placing social anxiety as the Level 2 moderator with other forms of
internalizing psychopathology: general anxiety and depression.
Similar to the social anxiety results, trait levels of general anxiety
and depression amplified associations between the intensity of
positive events during the past hour and momentary happiness,
anxiety, sense of belonging, and social avoidance motivation (Fig-
ures 2 and 3). Interaction effects between the intensity of positive
events and all three forms of internalizing psychopathology pre-
dicted momentary outcomes in similar directions (increased hap-
piness and sense of belonging and decreased anxiety and social
avoidance motivation). One small yet notable difference was that
interactions between the intensity of positive events and both
general anxiety and depression significantly predicted increased
momentary happiness, whereas the interaction with social anxiety
did not (see Table 2).
Discussion
Young adults with elevated social anxiety experience a range of
emotional difficulties in daily life, yet the real-world factors that
govern the hour-by-hour expression of social anxiety have only
recently come into focus. Leveraging intensive EMA sampling,
our findings show that positive events have a meaningful impact
on the emotional lives of young adults. On average, more intense
positive events during the past hour were associated with adaptive
changes in momentary emotion (increased happiness, decreased
anxiety), sense of belonging, and social motivation (increased
approach, decreased avoidance). As expected, social anxiety was
associated with impairments in these emotional and social do-
mains. On average, young adults with elevated social anxiety
experienced higher levels of momentary anxiety and social avoid-
ance motivation and lower levels of momentary happiness and
sense of belonging. The present results provide new evidence that
individuals with elevated social anxiety experience greater psy-
chological benefits (e.g., decreased anxiety, increased sense of
belonging, and decreased motivation to avoid others) following
positive events during the past hour that are perceived as more
intense. These observations provide insight into the circumstances
in which individuals with elevated social anxiety experience well-
being and/or the absence of psychological difficulties.
Exploratory analyses revealed similar patterns of effects for
individuals with elevated trait levels of general anxiety and de-
pression. On average, these individuals exhibited similar impair-
ments in momentary emotional (less happiness, more anxiety) and
social functioning (lower sense of belonging, less social approach
Table 2
Main and Interaction Effects of the Intensity of the Most Positive Event During the Past Hour, Social Anxiety, Depression, and
General Anxiety on Momentary Happiness, Anxiety, Sense of Belonging, and Social Approach and Avoidance Motivation
Moderation models
Outcome
Happiness Anxiety Sense of belonging
Social approach
motivation
Social avoidance
motivation
ttttt
Social anxiety
Lagged outcome .26
ⴱⴱⴱ
18.36 .26
ⴱⴱⴱ
15.12 .24
ⴱⴱⴱ
17.57 .29
ⴱⴱⴱ
16.54 .27
ⴱⴱⴱ
14.18
Past-hour PE
intensity
.29
ⴱⴱⴱ
15.68 .10
ⴱⴱⴱ
7.57 .25
ⴱⴱⴱ
14.70 .14
ⴱⴱⴱ
6.90 .16
ⴱⴱⴱ
9.25
Social anxiety .25
ⴱⴱⴱ
3.57 .24
ⴱⴱⴱ
5.16 .24
ⴱⴱⴱ
3.80 .09 1.18 .32
ⴱⴱⴱ
5.46
PE SA interaction .03 1.43 .03
2.20 .04
2.44 .03 1.39 .07
ⴱⴱⴱ
3.81
General anxiety
Lagged outcome .26
ⴱⴱⴱ
18.31 .26
ⴱⴱⴱ
15.22 .24
ⴱⴱⴱ
17.59 .29
ⴱⴱⴱ
16.51 .28
ⴱⴱⴱ
14.29
Past-hour PE
intensity
.29
ⴱⴱⴱ
15.86 .10
ⴱⴱⴱ
7.66 .24
ⴱⴱⴱ
14.97 .14
ⴱⴱⴱ
6.85 .16
ⴱⴱⴱ
9.39
General anxiety .24
ⴱⴱⴱ
3.40 .26
ⴱⴱⴱ
5.66 .19
ⴱⴱ
2.90 .09 1.24 .28
ⴱⴱⴱ
4.73
PE GA interaction .05
ⴱⴱⴱ
2.86 .04
ⴱⴱ
3.37 .06
ⴱⴱⴱ
3.72 .04 1.81 .08
ⴱⴱⴱ
4.74
Depression
Lagged outcome .26
ⴱⴱⴱ
18.18 .26
ⴱⴱⴱ
15.32 .24
ⴱⴱⴱ
17.44 .29
ⴱⴱⴱ
16.54 .28
ⴱⴱⴱ
14.24
Past-hour PE
intensity
.29
ⴱⴱⴱ
16.14 .10
ⴱⴱⴱ
7.71 .24
ⴱⴱⴱ
14.95 .14
ⴱⴱⴱ
6.85 .16
ⴱⴱⴱ
9.13
Depression .34
ⴱⴱⴱ
4.98 .29
ⴱⴱⴱ
6.48 .31
ⴱⴱⴱ
4.90 .18
2.39 .24
ⴱⴱⴱ
3.99
PE Dep interaction .06
ⴱⴱⴱ
3.58 .06
ⴱⴱⴱ
3.58 .06
ⴱⴱⴱ
3.63 .03 1.29 .06
ⴱⴱⴱ
3.65
Note. Lagged outcome A given outcome measured at the previous momentary observation (entered as a covariate in each model to measure change
over time); PE positive event; PE SA interaction the interaction between the intensity of positive events during the past hour and social anxiety;
PE GA interaction the interaction between the intensity of positive events during the past hour and general anxiety; PE Dep interaction the
interaction between the intensity of positive events during the past hour and depression.
p.05.
ⴱⴱ
p.01.
ⴱⴱⴱ
p.001.
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
5
SOCIAL ANXIETY AND RESPONSES TO POSITIVE EVENTS
motivation, more social avoidance motivation) compared with
individuals with elevated social anxiety. Individuals with elevated
general anxiety and depression also experienced greater psycho-
logical benefits following more intensely positive events in the
form of greater increases in momentary happiness and sense of
belonging and greater decreases in momentary anxiety and social
avoidance motivation. Of note, elevated general anxiety and de-
pression did not predict greater increases in momentary social
approach motivation following intensely positive events, which
mirrors our social anxiety findings. Elevated general anxiety and
depression did predict greater increases in momentary happiness,
however, and these effects were not significant for elevated social
anxiety.
The observed moderating role of elevated internalizing symp-
toms on momentary emotions following positive events is consis-
tent with “mood brightening” effects found in previous research
(e.g., Bylsma et al., 2011; Lamers et al., 2018; Rottenberg, 2017;
Thompson et al., 2012). These studies found “larger decreases in
negative affect after positively appraised life events” for individ-
uals with major depressive disorder compared with controls (Rot-
tenberg, 2017 p. 248). Although these studies have primarily
discovered mood brightening effects among individuals with mood
disorders, our results suggest that mood brightening may occur for
individuals with elevated levels of internalizing symptoms more
broadly following intensely positive events. Our findings also
suggest that mood brightening phenomena may not be specific to
decreased negative affect as previous findings suggest (e.g.,
Bylsma et al., 2011; Lamers et al., 2018; Thompson et al., 2012)
but may also extend to increased positive affect (e.g., happiness)
and other adaptive cognitive/affective states (e.g., sense of belong-
ing, social motivation).
The fact that individuals with elevated internalizing symptoms
exhibited a wider range of momentary benefits following positive
events than those observed in previous studies may be because of
differences in sampling. For example, other studies of mood
brightening effects have focused on individuals diagnosed with
major depressive disorder, whereas we selected young adults with
normally distributed levels of dispositional negativity; nonclinical
Figure 1. Interactions of the intensity of the most positive event during the past hour and trait social anxiety
predicting momentary anxiety, sense of belonging, and social avoidance motivation.
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
6DOORLEY ET AL.
samples of individuals with elevated internalizing symptoms may
experience a wider array of “brightening” effects following posi-
tive events. Future studies should seek to replicate and extend
these findings with community and clinical samples.
Individuals with elevated internalizing symptoms did not expe-
rience greater increases in momentary social approach motivation,
although they did experience adaptive momentary changes in
nearly every other outcome following more intensely positive
events. There is insufficient research that examines changes in
social motives following daily positive events. However, it makes
intuitive sense that individuals with elevated internalizing pathol-
ogy would not be more motivated to be with others following
positive events. These individuals tend to avoid social situations,
so it perhaps makes more sense that this preexisting motive to
avoid would be dampened following positive events as opposed to
a substantial increase in low desires to affiliate. It may also be the
case that these individuals were already with others during or
following their more intensely positive events; it would make little
sense for social approach motivation to markedly increase if they
were already socializing. Further, the observed nonsignificant
findings cannot be adequately explained by lack of statistical
power. Simulation studies of multilevel power suggest that designs
with at least 80 Level 2 units (e.g., participants) and 14 Level 1
units (e.g., observations) are sufficient to detect effect sizes greater
than .20 (Nezlek, 2011, 2012; Raudenbush & Liu, 2000).
Limitations and Future Directions
Although we believe the present results make an important
contribution to the literature, there are several limitations worth
addressing. First, it is possible that floor effects contributed to the
greater observed reductions in momentary anxiety and social
avoidance motivation among individuals with higher versus lower
levels of internalizing symptoms. Descriptive statistics showed
that mean levels of these outcomes were close to 1 on scales of 1
to5(Mrange 1.32–1.86; see Supplemental Table 1 of the online
supplemental materials). These floor effects may be because of
measurement limitations. For example, our measure of anxiety was
a composite of three items, and our measure of social avoidance
motivation was a single-item scale. The fact that participants rated
these items 10 times per day is a strength of this study, but the high
number of assessments may have inflated the number of ratings of
“1” from participants with lower levels of internalizing symptoms.
We believe the present findings cannot be solely explained by
floor effects, however. Similar moderation effects emerged when
examining “positive” momentary outcomes (e.g., happiness) as
well as “negative” ones (social avoidance motivation). This sug-
gests that, beyond floor effects, there is something about higher
compared with lower internalizing symptoms that both alleviates
negative states following intensely positive events and enhances
positive states. Further, our results partially replicate and extend
findings demonstrating that individuals with elevated depression
(e.g., Bylsma et al., 2011; Lamers et al., 2018; Thompson et al.,
2012) and social anxiety (e.g., Shackman et al., 2018) experience
greater momentary benefits from positive daily experiences (e.g.,
“mood brightening” effect). Future studies should seek to replicate
these effects with measures that are less susceptible to floor effects
and/or with clinical samples with higher mean levels of momen-
tary anxiety and social avoidance motivation.
Future studies may benefit from using event-contingent re-
sponding, in which participants endorse positive events precisely
when they occur rather than asking participants to endorse a
positive event at each assessment. It may be that forced response
methods lead to the reporting of some positive events that are not
truly positive. However, we accounted for this in our study by
obtaining participants’ subjective ratings of positive event inten-
sity. Event-contingent responding could provide valuable contex-
tual clues as to where and when positive events are most likely to
occur. Our study would have also benefited from more detailed
Table 3
Simple Slope for Association Between the Intensity of the Most Positive Event During the Past Hour Predicting Momentary
Happiness, Anxiety, Sense of Belonging and Social Avoidance Motivation, Moderated by Social Anxiety, General Anxiety,
and Depression
Moderators
Outcome
Happiness Anxiety Sense of belonging
Social avoidance
motivation
tttt
Social anxiety
1SD N/A N/A .08
ⴱⴱⴱ
3.86 .18
ⴱⴱⴱ
8.95 .08
ⴱⴱⴱ
3.95
MN/A N/A .11
ⴱⴱⴱ
7.57 .22
ⴱⴱⴱ
14.70 .13
ⴱⴱⴱ
9.25
1SD N/A N/A .14
ⴱⴱⴱ
6.80 .25
ⴱⴱⴱ
12.11 .18
ⴱⴱⴱ
9.07
General anxiety
1SD .20
ⴱⴱⴱ
9.54 .06
ⴱⴱ
3.08 .16
ⴱⴱⴱ
8.22 .07
ⴱⴱⴱ
3.42
M.25
ⴱⴱⴱ
15.86 .11
ⴱⴱⴱ
7.66 .21
ⴱⴱⴱ
14.97 .13
ⴱⴱⴱ
9.39
1SD .29
ⴱⴱⴱ
13.67 .15
ⴱⴱⴱ
7.88 .26
ⴱⴱⴱ
13.56 .19
ⴱⴱⴱ
10.11
Depression
1SD .19
ⴱⴱⴱ
9.11 .06
ⴱⴱ
2.85 .16
ⴱⴱⴱ
8.06 .08
ⴱⴱⴱ
3.80
M.25
ⴱⴱⴱ
16.14 .11
ⴱⴱⴱ
7.71 .21
ⴱⴱⴱ
14.95 .13
ⴱⴱⴱ
9.13
1SD .30
ⴱⴱⴱ
14.29 .15
ⴱⴱⴱ
8.02 .27
ⴱⴱⴱ
13.34 .18
ⴱⴱⴱ
9.07
Note. N/A the interaction between the intensity of the most positive event during the past hour and social anxiety did not predict momentary happiness.
ⴱⴱ
p.01.
ⴱⴱⴱ
p.001.
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7
SOCIAL ANXIETY AND RESPONSES TO POSITIVE EVENTS
qualitative data on momentary positive events. Participants pro-
vided qualitative event descriptions in the present study, but these
descriptions were too brief or vague to be coded without substan-
tial measurement error. Future studies should collect richer qual-
itative information to assess whether (a) the daily positive events
of individuals with elevated social anxiety or other internalizing
symptoms differ from those of the general young adult population,
and (b) whether our conclusions generalize across different types
of positive events— especially in light of evidence that individuals
with elevated social anxiety fail to extract rewards from social
situations specifically (e.g., Wells et al., 1995).
It would also be fruitful to investigate predictors of intensely
positive events for individuals with elevated internalizing symp-
toms, including individual differences (e.g., savoring, metabeliefs
about emotions, reliance on experiential avoidance as a self-
regulatory strategy), features of positive events (e.g., levels of
physical activity, exposure to nature, consistency of event with
personal values), and other contextual features (e.g., presence of
close friends). Individuals with elevated internalizing symptoms
may deploy less adaptive emotion regulation strategies in response
to positive events (e.g., emotional suppression), whereas others
respond in healthier ways—thereby upregulating momentary ben-
efits from these events. Exploring these moderators of responses to
daily positive events could elucidate factors that promote positive
functioning among people with elevated internalizing symptoms
and shape interventions to enhance well-being in daily life (Good-
man, Doorley, & Kashdan, 2018).
Given the observed psychological benefits of intensely positive
events, behavioral activation strategies (e.g., deliberately schedul-
ing pleasurable activities into one’s daily routine) may improve
affect, enhance feelings of social belonging, and decrease motiva-
tions for social withdrawal among individuals with elevated inter-
nalizing symptoms. Simply attending to and recording positive
events throughout the day may also help these individuals expe-
rience more positivity than normal. Individuals with elevated in-
ternalizing symptoms often display maladaptive attentional biases
toward negative self-relevant information and emotional stimuli
(depression; Clasen, Wells, Ellis, & Beevers, 2013; Mogg &
Bradley, 2005), negative thoughts and emotions, external social
threats (social anxiety; Mogg & Bradley, 2002), and hypothetical
Figure 2. Interactions of the intensity of the most positive event during the past hour and trait general anxiety
predicting momentary happiness, anxiety, sense of belonging, and social avoidance motivation.
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
8DOORLEY ET AL.
or future threats (general anxiety; e.g., Stefanopoulou, Hirsch,
Hayes, Adlam, & Coker, 2014), making it challenging to fully
attend to positive events. Reporting on positive events throughout
the day may serve as an ecological momentary intervention
(EMI)— helping individuals shift attention toward positive envi-
ronmental cues and reap more psychological benefits. EMIs have
received increasing support (e.g., Businelle et al., 2016; Pramana,
Parmanto, Kendall, & Silk, 2014; Riordan, Conner, Flett, & Scarf,
2015) and have a number of benefits compared with traditional
therapy, including reduced cost and barriers to treatment, greater
flexibility, and potential for wider dissemination of evidence-based
interventions (Andrews & Erskine, 2003; Griffiths, Lindenmeyer,
Powell, Lowe, & Thorogood, 2006; Titov, 2007). Future studies
should test EMIs that prompt individuals with elevated internaliz-
ing symptoms to plan, pay attention to, record, and reflect on daily
positive experiences.
Conclusions
To date, the momentary consequences of positive events have
been largely overlooked among individuals with elevated social
anxiety and other internalizing symptoms. The present results
suggest that positive events play a key role in governing the
momentary dynamics of real-world emotional experience, high-
lighting a potential pathway to enhance well-being and better
understand the circumstances under which individuals with ele-
vated internalizing symptoms can thrive. The use of well-
established EMA techniques, a sample selectively recruited from a
pool of more than 2,500 prescreened individuals, and our explo-
ration of multiple forms of internalizing psychopathology in-
creases our confidence in the reproducibility and clinical relevance
of these findings. These results set the stage for developing im-
proved strategies for preventing or treating the deleterious conse-
quences of anxiety and depression.
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12 DOORLEY ET AL.
... Resilience refers to a process of positive adaptation to stress or adversity (Rutter, 2006, Figure 1.1). According to the theoretical framework proposed by Kalisch et al. (2015), resilience is influenced by internal resources such as optimism (Segovia, Moore, Linnville, Hoyt, & Hain, 2012), self-efficacy (Schwarzer & Warner, 2013), active coping strategies (Smith & Carlson, 1997), and external resources including social support (Hefner & Eisenberg, 2009), positive events (Doorley et al., 2020;Grosse Rueschkamp, Kuppens, Riediger, Blanke, & Brose, 2020), physical activity (Kanning & Schlicht, 2010;Liao, Shonkoff, & Dunton, 2015;Wichers et al., 2012), and green space exposure (Bratman, Hamilton, Hahn, Daily, & Gross, 2015;Tost et al., 2019;White, Alcock, Wheeler, & Depledge, 2013). Compared to internal resources, external resilience resources can be monitored relatively well using innovative digital technologies and may even be targets for experimental modification. ...
... Table S3.5). (Hefner & Eisenberg, 2009), positive experiences (Doorley et al., 2020;Grosse Rueschkamp et al., 2020), physical activity (Kanning & Schlicht, 2010;Liao et al., 2015;Wichers et al., 2012), and green space exposure (Bratman et al., 2015;Tost et al., 2019;White et al., 2013). Unlike physical activity and green space exposure, which have been widely studied, the neural bases of affective reactivity to social contact and to positive events remain unclear. ...
Thesis
Disturbed affective well-being contributes to the development of major psychiatric disorders. Thus, scientists and clinicians have been investigating how to help psychiatric patients and at-risk populations become resilient against distressed affective states. In the present dissertation, I studied two real-life affective resilience measures, namely social affective benefit and affective reactivity to positive events that capture the respective effects of social contact and positive events on real-life affective well-being. To this end, I used a neuro-epidemiological approach combining state-of-the-art smartphone-based ambulatory assessment, neuroimaging, and self-report inventories of psychiatric risk and resilience. I examined the neurobiological correlates of social affective benefit using structural MRI in study 1, and the neural basis of affective reactivity to positive events using functional MRI measured with the monetary incentive delay task in study 2. Additionally, in both studies, I also probed the potential relevance of these two real-life affective resilience measures for psychiatric risk and resilience. In study 1, I corroborated in two independent community-based adult samples that real-life social contact was associated with increased affective valence using multilevel models, an effect I named social affective benefit. Our findings also showed that higher levels of social affective benefit were associated with greater anterior cingulate cortex gray matter volume, suggesting that structural integrity of the anterior cingulate cortex may be important for this fundamental affective resilience measure. Moreover, higher levels of social affective benefit were linked to increased social competence, indicated by utilizing social support in stressful life situations and socially desirable personality traits such as agreeableness and conscientiousness. Together these findings demonstrate that social affective benefit may be relevant for psychiatric resilience. In study 2, I showed a strong association between real-life positive events and momentary affect in a community-based developmental sample comprising adolescents and young adults. Further, affective reactivity to positive events was linked to laboratory-based reward-related ventral striatum reactivity at the between-subject level. Additionally, using an accelerated longitudinal design, I demonstrated that ventral striatum reactivity was linearly associated with real-life affective reactivity to positive events within subjects across three annually separated measurement time points. This within-subject association indicates that real-life and laboratory-based neural reward measures co-evolve over time, which was specifically pronounced in individuals with high social environmental risk indicated by higher urban upbringing scores and a smaller social network size. I speculated that for at-risk individuals, the ability to benefit from rewarding experiences may represent an important real-life resilience measure to compensate for compromised striatal reward processing. Moreover, I showed that the within-subject association between ventral striatum reactivity and affective reactivity to positive events was independent of the developmental effect of striatal reward processing in adolescence and early adulthood. In summary, beneficial social influences and positive daily-life experiences are major sources of mental health resilience. This dissertation suggests that social contact and positive events are strongly associated with enhanced affective well-being in real life, thus forming two real-life affective resilience measures: social affective benefit and affective reactivity to positive events. The neurobiological substrates of social affective benefit and affective reactivity to positive events map to a region shown as a convergence site for psychiatric resilience and a core region in the brain reward system that is often perturbed in psychiatric patients. Given the technological advances in mobile research and intervention technologies, real-life social affective benefit and affective reactivity to positive events may thus represent important and feasible targets for smartphone-based preventative and therapeutic interventions aiming at identifying and utilizing daily life experiences to reduce the mental health risk in vulnerable populations and mitigating affective symptoms in psychiatric patients.
... A small set of experience-sampling studies offer ancillary support for this hypothesis. One daily diary study found that people with elevated social anxiety experienced larger reductions in anxiety on days following intimate sexual experiences than those with low social anxiety (Kashdan, Adams et al., 2014); one EMA study found that people with elevated social anxiety reported larger decreases in NA following social interactions with close companions (i.e., close friends, family, romantic partners), although they did not report changes in PA (Hur et al., 2020); and one EMA study found that people with elevated social anxiety reported greater psychological benefits (less anxiety, less motivation to avoid social situations, greater sense of belonging) following positive events than people with lower social anxiety (Doorley et al., 2020). For people with SAD, we might expect a "mood brightening" effect when they enter social situations, where PA increases to a greater degree than controls. ...
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Full-text available
Quality contact with other people serves as a reliable mood enhancement strategy. We wondered if the emotional benefits of socializing are present even for those with a psychological disorder defined by social distress and avoidance: social anxiety disorder (SAD). We conducted two ecological momentary assessment (EMA) studies and analyzed 7,243 total surveys. In both studies, community adults diagnosed with SAD and healthy controls received five surveys each day for two weeks. Consistent with research on positivity deficits in SAD, between-person analyses in both studies suggest that, on average, participants with SAD reported lower positive and higher negative affect in social and non-social situations than healthy controls. Within-person analyses, however, revealed that in both studies participants with SAD and healthy controls reported higher positive affect when with others than when alone; no differences were found for negative affect. The difference in positive affect between social and nonsocial situations was smaller for participants with SAD in Study 1, suggesting that people with SAD may experience diminished reward responding when socializing. Our results suggest that even those with a mental illness defined by interpersonal distress can and do derive positive emotions from social interactions.
... Evidence in support of these models show that high levels of negative affect are shared by anxiety and depression while low levels of positive affect are more strongly negatively related to anhedonic depression (e.g., Clark and Watson, 1991;Watson, Clark, et al., 1995;Watson, 2009). There are noted exceptions to this pattern, including that individuals with some forms of anxiety, especially social anxiety, report lower levels of positive affect than other individuals with anxiety (e.g., Doorley et al., 2020;Khazanov & Ruscio, 2016;Naragon-Gainey et al., 2009;Watson & Naragon-Gainey, 2010). Individuals with anxiety have also shown evidence of down-regulation or dampening of positive emotional experiences (e.g., Bosley et al., 2018;Carl et al., 2013;Carl et al., 2014;Eisner et al., 2009;Sass et al., 2017), which is suggestive of disruptions in positive affect. ...
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