Heartbeat perception in social anxiety before and during speech anticipation
According to current cognitive models of social phobia, individuals with social anxiety create a distorted image of themselves in social situations, relying, at least partially, on interoceptive cues. We investigated differences in heartbeat perception as a proxy of interoception in 48 individuals high and low in social anxiety at baseline and while anticipating a public speech. Results revealed lower error scores for high fearful participants both at baseline and during speech anticipation. Speech anticipation improved heartbeat perception in both groups only marginally. Eight of nine accurate perceivers as determined using a criterion of maximum difference between actual and counted beats were high socially anxious. Higher interoceptive accuracy might increase the risk of misinterpreting physical symptoms as visible signs of anxiety which then trigger negative evaluation by others. Treatment should take into account that in socially anxious individuals perceived physical arousal is likely to be accurate rather than false alarm.