March 2, 2020
The National Social Anxiety Center (NSAC) provides information about relevant and current research in the service of disseminating and promoting evidence-based treatment. This month’s summary focuses on the relationship between social conformity, neural response level, and social anxiety disorder from a study by Feng and colleagues (2018) in China.
In this study, researchers asked two groups of participants (20 with prior SAD symptoms and diagnosis, 19 without) to rate 160 pictures of people (both genders) on their level of attractiveness. After the initial ratings, participants were shown “average ratings” from peers. Unknown to the participants, these “average ratings” were created by an algorithm, not actual peer ratings. Participants were later (30 minutes after initial rating) asked to re-rate the same faces.
The results were quite interesting. Those with a prior SAD diagnosis initially rated the faces higher on the attractiveness scale than those without SAD. After being shown what were supposedly ‘peer’ ratings, those with SAD were more likely than those without SAD to change their responses to conform with what they believed were peer ratings in circumstances in which the average ratings were higher than the individual’s initial ratings. Interestingly, those with SAD were less likely than those without SAD to change responses to conform with what they believed were peer ratings in circumstances in which the average ratings were lower than the individual’s initial ratings.
These observations were consistent with neural responses. Researchers also measured the N400 signal, known for activation related to incongruences disagreement or conflict. In this experiment, those within the SAD group had a spike of the N400 component that was higher than those without SAD when faced specifically with a ‘peer’ rating that was incongruent on a higher-level rating. This study highlights that individuals with social anxiety may be more likely to seek positive social approval while avoiding social disagreement.
In what are other ways have you seen that individuals with social anxiety incorporate social information in a biased manner? How might this be related to obtaining social acceptance or avoiding social rejection?
Chunliang Feng, Jianqin Cao, Yingli Li, Haiyan Wu, Dean Mobbs, The pursuit of social acceptance: aberrant conformity in social anxiety disorder, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Volume 13, Issue 8, August 2018, Pages 809–817.
Shmuel Fischler, LCSW-C
Diplomate, Academy of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies
Representative of NSAC Baltimore