September 14, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

The National Social Anxiety Center (NSAC) provides information about relevant and current research in service of disseminating and promoting evidence-based treatment. This month’s summary, by Daniel Chazin, focuses on potential connections between social anxiety and concerning use of internet and social media sites.

In a recent web-based survey study, Dempsey, O’Brien, Tiamiyu and Elhai (2019) examined the associations of social anxiety and depression with problematic social networking site use, and problematic Facebook use in particular. Based on previous work (Marino et al., 2018), the researchers conceptualize problematic Facebook use (PFU) as use of the platform that involves poor self-regulation or addiction-like qualities (such as tolerance, withdrawal, or mood modification) and that creates impairments in a user’s life, such as emotional, social, or work/school problems.

The researchers used structural equation modeling (SEM) to test a model regarding the relationship of social anxiety and depression to PFU and possible factors mediating these relationships. Two hundred and ninety six undergraduate participants completed standardized questionnaires of social interaction anxiety, depression, life satisfaction, and rumination, as well as a measure of Fear of Missing Out (FoMO).

The results showed that higher levels of social anxiety and depression were each associated with more severely problematic Facebook use, or a tendency to use Facebook in an addictive way. Social anxiety was a stronger predictor of PFU. Moreover, the relationship between social anxiety with PFU was largely mediated, or accounted for, by rumination and fear of missing out, each of which independently predicted PFU when adjusting for covariates (gender and age).

These results indicate that some individuals with social anxiety may be particularly prone to repeatedly, excessively check social media in an addictive manner, and that this behavior may be motivated partly by tendencies to ruminate offline about social relationships/events and concerns about the possibility of missing out on desirable social experiences (such as those broadcasted or occurring on Facebook). Relating their findings to theories of problematic internet use, the authors suggest that problematic use among socially anxious individuals may also be fueled by avoidance of negative emotions and real-life problems and by positive expectancies regarding Facebook use (e.g., the perception of Facebook as a helpful tool to compensate for real life social/connection deficits). While limited by its cross-sectional design and self-report methodology, this study joins several other recent studies that suggest a reliable and meaningful link between social anxiety and vulnerability to problematic internet use.

How do you distinguish between problematic use of social media and more constructive online engagement in socially anxious clients?

Are any of your socially anxious clients using Facebook or other social media sites in excessive and problematic ways? How do you assess the function of these type of behaviors or assess if the use of social media is motivated by such factors as rumination, concerns about missing out, avoidance of negative emotions, or compensation for real-life social deficits or unmet needs?

Dempsey, A. E., O’Brien, K. D., Tiamiyu, M. F., & Elhai, J. D. Fear of missing out (FoMO) and rumination mediate relations between social anxiety and problematic Facebook useAddictive Behaviors Reports, une, 2019, volume 9, 1-7.

See also: Marino, C., Gini, G., Vieno, A., & Spada, M. M. The associations between problematic Facebook use, psychological distress and well-being among adolescents and young adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, January, 2018, volume 226.

See also the presentation by Randy Weiss (NSAC Phoenix) on Excessive Internet Use as a Safety Behavior in Social Anxiety, from the 2019 ADAA Conference.

Daniel Chazin, PhD
Clinical Psychologist

Representative of NSAC Philadelphia (Center for Anxiety, OCD, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy