Thursday, August 06, 2009

Social anxiety and social rejection

An important feature of social anxiety disorder (SAD) is the fear of being negatively evaluated in social situations. Cognitive therapy works by disputing the idea that people with social anxiety are being evaluated negatively but there is growing evidence that socially-anxious people do bring out negative reactions in others. They have been judged by independent raters as less likeable and less comfortable to be around, less friendly, assertive, relaxed and attractive, moodier, more sensitive to demands, more self-pitying and lacking meaning in life. So why do socially anxious people - who are usually desperate to be liked - come across so negatively? It is thought that some of the strategies used by socially-anxious people, such as avoiding eye contact so as not to see others' negative reactions; giving short answers to questions so as not to say anything foolish, or giving long answers so as not to appear boring can backfire leading to socially-anxious people being perceived as socially-inept. There is also the theory that the negativity felt by socially-anxious people might rub off on those they socialize with. It has also been found that socially-anxious people are felt to be somehow less like the people they talk to; something important as people tend to prefer those they see as being similar to themselves. Researchers from the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands studied 90 people; 63 of whom had SAD. The participants were monitored as they held a five-minute getting-to-know-you conversation with another person who was also part of the research team and who rated their social performance. The conversations were videoed and shown to other people who rated their own negative emotions towards the participants, how similar they felt to them and how much they would want to meet them again. The results confirmed the theory that the people with social anxiety were more likely to be rejected, evoked significantly more negative emotions and received lower social-performance ratings. The negative emotions created by the people with social anxiety had a stronger effect on whether people thought they were similar to them or not than their social behaviour. A lower feeling of similarity and higher negative emotions on the part of the observers were in turn associated with social rejection of the people with social anxiety.

Voncken, Marisol J. ... [et al] - Social rejection in social anxiety disorder: the role of performance deficits, evoked negative emotions and dissimilarity British Journal of Clinical Psychology November 2008, 47(4), 439-450

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