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Capturing the Biases of Socially Anxious People by Addressing Partner Effects and Situational Parameters

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Abstract

To expose biases in self-perceptions of people high in social anxiety, information is needed on actual and perceived informant reports following social situations. We measured trait social anxiety (SA) in 90 college students arranged in pairs for "getting acquainted" conversations. Half participated in a small-talk task, where they took turns answering superficial questions; half participated in a closeness-generating task, where questions required gradual increases in self-disclosure. Afterward, students rated themselves and their partner on positive and negative attributes and how they think their partner viewed them. People with high SA judged themselves more negatively and less positively than their partner did (accuracy); when interacting with a partner endorsing low SA, they possessed enhanced negativity biases about how they expected to be viewed (meta-accuracy), and believed their partner's judgments were less positive than their own low self-judgments (perceived dissent). Conversely, people with low SA showed evidence of a self-enhancement bias about the impression they made on low SA strangers. Other moderators of the social cognitions of people with high SA included gender and the social situation (distortions being amplified in men and small-talk conversations). Our findings suggest that the study of SA cannot be understood using decontextualized approaches, instead requiring consideration of the synergy among the person, partner, and situation.

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... At the center of the Cognitive Behavioral Model of Social Anxiety Disorder (Heimberg et al., 2014) lies a ''mental representation of the self as seen by others,'' i.e., priors based on the self-concept generating predictions of evaluations by others. Indeed, people with SAD see themselves more negatively in social situations and expect interaction partners to see them as such (Kashdan and Savostyanova, 2011). In social interaction, people with SAD allocate attention toward evidence of being evaluated and their flaws (Heimberg et al., 2014) and try to conceal their anxiety by suppressing emotional expression (Butler et al., 2003;Kashdan et al., 2013). ...
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... First, based on cognitive theories which emphasize the role of negative self-perception in both SA and depression (e.g., Dozois & Frewen, 2006;Rapee & Heimberg, 1997) and consistent with previous studies (e.g., Gilboa-Schechtman, Friedman, Helpman, & Kananov, 2013), we postu-lated that both SA symptoms and depressive symptoms are related to lower self-perception (H1a) and meta-perception (H1b) on general traits (e.g., pertaining to a variety of domains such as intelligence, morality, creativity, and appearance). However, because studies have found mixed results about other-perception (e.g., Alden & Taylor, 2010;Kashdan & Savostyanova, 2011), no specific hypothesis was made regarding general other-perception. In addition, we predicted that SA symptoms and depressive symptoms are negatively related to accuracy (H1c) in the general domain (negative general perception in SA and depression hypothesis). ...
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... Individuals with social anxiety difficulties exert heightened self-regulation in most social interactions, but particularly during effortful or stressful interactions where there is greater potential for scrutiny (Hofmann, 2007). The extent to which a socially anxious person views a social situation as effortful or stressful is primarily the result of processing themselves as a social object-where the self is perceived more negatively and less positively than reality, and other people are expected to view the self more negatively and less positively than reality Kashdan & Savostyanova, 2011;Rapee & Heimberg, 1997). ...
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... In fact, dyads matched on high levels of SA actually reported more closeness than did participants matched on low levels of SA (see Kashdan & Wenzel, 2005, for a discussion of possible reasons for this difference). More recently, Kashdan and Savostyanova (2011) found that similarity influenced participants' level of accuracy, meta-accuracy, and perceived dissent following initial interactions. On the other hand, participants with high levels of SA reported negative self-perceptions following the conversations, regardless of partner SA; participants with low levels of SA reported negative self-perceptions only when interacting with a partner with high levels of SA. ...
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Using a thought-listing protocol that directed subjects to separately list their thoughts for self and an interaction partner, this study tested the unique contribution of perceptions of the other person to social anxiety when interacting with a stranger. After viewing a picture of their partner in an upcoming interaction, undergraduate men completed two thought-listing protocols and then engaged in a 5-min conversation with an attractive female confederate. Multivariate hierarchical regression indicated that the percentage of negative self-thoughts was inversely related to self-efficacy ratings collected prior to and early during the conversation and positively related to subjective anxiety at the end of the interaction. After controlling for self-thoughts, perceptions about the partner's positive attributes contributed to prediction of behavioral signs of anxiety, but not self-efficacy or subjective anxiety. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that an attentional focus on positive attributes of the other person may increase one's social anxiety beyond that attributable to negative self-thoughts. Possible mechanisms that may account for this relationship are discussed.
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Anxiety-related responding and skill deficits have historically been associated with performance-based anxiety disorders such as social phobia. Prominent cognitive-behavioral models of social phobia have typically deemphasized skill deficits and focused more on the effects of negative cognition on social performance. Considering that empirical accounts of the relation between social skill and social performance are generally modest, the impact of skill deficits on the development and maintenance of performance inadequacies may be relatively neglected in theoretical paradigms in this area. A second problem that has plagued social skill research is the misuse of the term skill deficit as a synonym for performance deficit. In response to these issues, we utilize the multilevel framework of psychological behaviorism to offer a more parsimonious account of the relation between anxiety and skill in social phobia. We argue that this integrated model assimilates contemporary accounts of social phobia and uniquely expands upon them by delineating the unique and cumulative effects of skill and anxiety on social performance. We further suggest that this model resolves existing theoretical incompatibilities, facilitates improved patient-treatment matching, and shows promise as a guiding framework for empirical research.
Article
Social phobics, anxious controls and non-patient controls took part in a brief videotaped conversation with a stooge in order to investigate the cognitive model of social phobia. Thoughts, behaviour, and attention during the conversation were assessed. Compared to the control groups, social phobics had more negative self-evaluative thoughts, performed less well, and systematically underestimated their performance. There were no differences in attention between the three groups. Content analysis of thought sampling data from the conversation, and from three hypothetical situations, revealed that few of the negative thoughts reported by social phobics explicitly mentioned evaluation by other people. This suggests that social phobics may not closely monitor other people's responses in social situations and hence that their thoughts are not data driven. The results are discussed in relation to the cognitive model of social phobia and suggestions are made for improvements in the treatment of social phobia.
Article
It remains unclear whether social anxiety interferes with the generation of closeness during initial encounters. We addressed the question of whether perceived closeness between strangers differs as a function of dyad characteristics (i.e., self and partner levels of social anxiety) and social context. We conducted an experiment with 90 participants randomly assigned to either a 45-minute personal disclosure or small-talk dyadic conversation. Multilevel modeling results yielded a 3-way interaction, such that the effect of social anxiety on closeness generated during the interaction was moderated by social anxiety reported by interaction partners and social context. In the personal disclosure condition, perceived closeness was greatest when the most socially anxious individuals interacted with each other. In the small-talk condition, perceived closeness was greatest when the least socially anxious individuals interacted with each other. Across conditions, partners with substantial differences in social anxiety (i.e., mixed dyads) reported relatively less closeness than partners with similar levels of social anxiety. Social anxiety effects were not attributable to depressive symptoms or physical attraction to partners. These findings suggest that neglecting specific qualities of interaction partners and social situational factors may lead to spurious conclusions in understanding interpersonal outcomes related to social anxiety.
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 article elaborates a view of anxiety as deriving from a basic human need to belong to social groups. Anxiety is seen as a pervasive and possibly innately prepare form of distress that arises in response to actual or threatened exclusion from important social groups. The reasons groups exclude individuals (incompetence, deviance or immorality, and unattractiveness) therefore should all be linked to anxiety, and events that implicate the self as incompetent, guilty, or unattractive should create anxiety. This "exclusion theory" of anxiety can be considered a broader revision of separation anxiety theory and is distinguished from theories that base anxiety on fear of death, fear of castration, and perception of uncertainty. Current evidence from multiple sources is reviewed to show the explanatory power and utility of exclusion theory, and implications of this theory are developed in relation to culturally changing standards of sexual behaviour, the motivations underlying the Oedipus complex, and the formation and functions of the self.
Article
This article reexamines the prevailing conclusion that people are unaware of the different impressions they make, or that their differential meta-accuracy is poor. This conclusion emerged from research employing contextually undifferentiated designs that may have constrained differences in actual impressions, thereby limiting participants' ability to demonstrate differential meta-accuracy. We argue that an alternative, contextually differentiated approach may reveal evidence for differential meta-accuracy because (a) people tend to behave differently in different social contexts, (b) interaction partners from different social contexts witness differing behaviors and form differing impressions of a target person, and (c) contextual information used to infer the impression one makes on others is relatively differentiated across contexts, resulting in differentiated metaperceptions. We assessed differential meta-accuracy across social contexts (i.e., parents, hometown friends, and college friends) and found that, in contrast to researchers' prevailing conclusion, people can indeed detect the relative impressions they make on others.
Article
Previous research suggests that socially anxious individuals interpret ambiguous social information in a more threatening manner compared to non-anxious individuals. Recently, studies have experimentally modified interpretation and shown that this subsequently affected anxiety in non-anxious individuals. If similar procedures can modify interpretation biases in socially anxious individuals, they may lead to a reduction in social anxiety symptoms. In the current study, we examined the effect of a computerized Interpretation Modification Program (IMP) on interpretation bias and social anxiety symptoms. Twenty-seven socially anxious individuals were randomly assigned to the IMP or a control condition. Participants completed eight computer sessions over four weeks. The IMP modified interpretation by providing positive feedback when participants made benign interpretations and negative feedback in response to threat interpretations. The IMP successfully decreased threat interpretations, increased benign interpretations, and decreased social anxiety symptoms compared to the control condition. Moreover, changes in benign interpretation mediated IMP's effect on social anxiety. This initial trial suggests that interpretation modification may have clinical utility when applied as a multi-session intervention.
Article
Fifty-two socially-anxious and non-anxious individuals were assessed for indicators of physiological arousal, type of cognitions, and behavioral indicators of skill and anxiety within the context of a series of interpersonal tasks. These assessments included an unstructured interaction with an opposite-sex confederate, a similar interaction with a same-sex confederate and an impromptu speech. Results indicated that physiological reactivity occurred in most social situations in the socially anxious and to some extent in the non-socially anxious. An additional physiological index by which to differentiate the groups appeared to be latency to habituation. Socially-anxious individuals also have an increased number of negative cognitions and fewer positive cognitions. Situational factors appear to mediate the absolute level of reactivity. The results are discussed in terms of the assessment of the socially anxious, the role of physiological arousal, and the effect of situational context.
Article
32 generalized social phobic outpatients and 32 matched nonclinical control subjects participated in a dyadic 'getting acquainted' interaction with an experimental assistant who engaged in either positive or negative social behavior. The accuracy of social phobics' and control subjects' perceptions of themselves and their partners were compared in the two conditions. Relative to observers' ratings, the social phobics displayed a negative bias in their appraisals of some, but not all, aspects of their social performance. These results suggested that social phobics may have particular difficulty gauging the nonverbal aspects of their social behavior. The phobics discounted their social competence to the same extent in the positive interaction, where their behavior was more skillful, as in the negative interaction. The social phobics were also less accurate than nonclinical controls in their appraisals of their partners, however, these phobic subjects displayed a positive bias when appraising their partner's performance.
Article
The efficacy of Heimberg's (1991) Cognitive-Behavioral Group Therapy (CBGT) [Unpublished manuscript] for social phobia has been demonstrated in several studies in recent years. However, little is known about the mechanisms underlying the treatment's success. In order to determine whether the cognitive restructuring component of CBGT is essential, this study compared CBGT to an exposure-based treatment without formal cognitive restructuring. A wait-list control was also included. In general, Ss in the active treatment conditions improved and control Ss did not improve on a variety of self-report, clinician, and behavioral measures. Limited evidence indicated that Ss in the non-cognitive treatment may have made somewhat greater gains on some measures. Although CBGT Ss reported more improvement than exposure-alone Ss in subjective anxiety during an individualized behavioral test at posttreatment, this difference disappeared at 6-month follow-up. Surprisingly, CBGT was less effective than in previous controlled trials, and possible reasons for this are discussed. Implications of the results for cognitive theory and cognitive-behavioral therapy for social phobia are addressed.
Article
A theory was proposed to reconcile paradoxical findings on the invariance of personality and the variability of behavior across situations. For this purpose, individuals were assumed to differ in (a) the accessibility of cognitive-affective mediating units (such as encodings, expectancies and beliefs, affects, and goals) and (b) the organization of relationships through which these units interact with each other and with psychological features of situations. The theory accounts for individual differences in predictable patterns of variability across situations (e.g., if A then she X, but if B then she Y), as well as for overall average levels of behavior, as essential expressions or behavioral signatures of the same underlying personality system. Situations, personality dispositions, dynamics, and structure were reconceptualized from this perspective.
Article
S. E. Taylor and J. D. Brown (see record 1992-16903-001 ) published an article that challenged the notion that accurate perceptions of self and the world are essential for mental health. The authors argued instead that people's perceptions in these domains are positively biased and that these positive illusions promote psychological well-being. In the current article, the authors review their theoretical model, correct certain misconceptions in its empirical application, and address the criticisms made by C. R. Colvin and J. Block (see record 1994-41047-001 ).
Article
The self-disclosures of socially anxious and nonanxious Ss were compared within the framework of R. M. Arkin's (1981) motivational theory of social anxiety. Ss (N = 84 women) were paired with a confederate who disclosed at either a high or a low level of intimacy (i.e., the classic reciprocity paradigm). Consistent with R. M. Arkin's theory, anxious Ss were concerned with self-protection during the task and disclosed at a moderate level of intimacy regardless of their partner's behavior. In addition, anxious Ss did not reciprocate their partners' disclosures as well as did nonanxious Ss. The self-protective behaviors of the anxious Ss were associated with less liking and more discomfort on the part of their partners. This suggests that the adoption of self-protective strategies may elicit negative interpersonal reactions that maintain self-defeating interpersonal patterns in socially anxious people.
Article
Previous research has demonstrated that socially anxious subjects appraise their own social performance as worse than it is seen by independent observers, but are able to appraise the performance of others accurately. Three studies are reported in which socially anxious subjects evaluated their own social performance after viewing it via video. In each study, ratings made following video were closer to those made by independent observers than were ratings made without the benefit of video. In addition, this effect was similar in both socially anxious and nonanxious people. A model is proposed in which self evaluation of one's social performance is based on a mental representation of one's external appearance which receives input from long term memory, internal cues, and external cues.
Article
The current paper presents a model of the experience of anxiety in social/evaluative situations in people with social phobia. The model describes the manner in which people with social phobia perceive and process information related to potential evaluation and the way in which these processes differ between people high and low in social anxiety. It is argued that distortions and biases in the processing of social/evaluative information lead to heightened anxiety in social situations and, in turn, help to maintain social phobia. Potential etiological factors as well as treatment implications are also discussed.
Article
Socially anxious (N = 41) and non-anxious (N = 41) individuals participated in a getting acquainted situation that was based on the reciprocity self-disclosure paradigm. Subjects' appraisals of the situation were manipulated to be either positive or negative by highlighting the likelihood of positive or negative social outcomes. Subjects' social goals and use of safety behaviors were assessed, as were others' reaction to the subjects. As predicted, socially anxious individuals elicited significantly more negative responses from others in the negative appraisal condition, where they employed safety behaviors, than in the positive appraisal condition, where they did not. The results supported a cognitive model of social anxiety, rather than alternative explanations.
Article
Nineteen subjects high in social anxiety and 20 subjects low in social anxiety were asked to give a 5-min speech in front of three audience members. Audience members were trained to provide indicators of positive evaluation (e.g., smiles) and negative evaluation (e.g. frowns) at irregular intervals during the speech. Subjects were instructed to indicate, by depressing one of two buttons, when they detected either positive or negative behaviours. Results indicated that subjects high in social anxiety were both more accurate at, and had a more liberal criterion for, detecting negative audience behaviours while subjects low in social anxiety were more accurate at detecting positive audience behaviours.
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
The Social Performance Rating Scale (SPRS) is a modification of the rating system for behavioral assessment of social skills, originally developed by Trower, P., Bryant, B., & Argyle, M. (1978). Social skills and mental health. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press) and subsequently adapted by Turner and colleagues (e.g., Turner, S.M., Beidel, D.C., Dancu, C.V., & Keys, D.J. (1986). Psychopathology of social phobia and comparison to avoidant personality disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95, 389-394). Designed to yield ratings of social performance appropriate for use in a socially phobic population and based on videotaped role plays, the five SPRS ratings are gaze, vocal quality, speech length, discomfort, and conversation flow. The sum of these ratings provides an internally consistent total score. In an initial study of the psychometric properties of the SPRS, three groups were assessed: individuals with social phobia, another anxiety disorder, or no psychological disorder. Inter-rater reliability for individual items and the total score proved excellent, and positive evidence for convergent, divergent, and criterion-related validity was obtained.
Article
We examined three cognitive processes hypothesized to contribute to biases in judgments about and memory for social events: self-focused attention, post-event rumination, and anticipatory processing. Socially anxious (N = 58) and nonanxious (N = 58) subjects participated in a social interaction and then completed measures of self-focused attention and anxiety-related physiological sensations and behavior. The next day, subjects completed measures that assessed frequency of post-event processing and recall of the interaction. The results indicated that selective attention to negative self-related information led to biases in social judgments and recollections and that post-event processing contributed to the recall of negative self-related information. No evidence was found for selective retrieval of negative self-related information prior to a second social interaction. The results reconcile inconsistent previous findings related to memory bias in social anxiety.