August 21, 2019

Dear Colleagues,

The National Social Anxiety Center (NSAC) provides information about relevant research in service of disseminating and promoting evidence-based treatment. This month’s summary by Zach Pacha, LISW from NSAC Des Moines, focuses on how social anxiety increases visible anxiety signs during social encounters but does not impair performance.

The recently published study from Greenwich University in London (Thompson et al., 2019) examined “whether social anxiety is associated with impaired social behavior, and in particular: (1) whether impairment occurs only for specific dimensions of behavior, and (2) whether impairing effects are greater in females” (Thompson et al., 2019). The study can be found here.

This non-clinical sample was composed of ninety-three university students (45 males, 48 females, mean age of 25.6 years). Levels of trait social anxiety were measured by the Social Phobia Scale (SPS) and levels of state anxiety were measured with a single self-report item (scale of 1-10). Participants were asked to perform two social challenges that were categorized as commonly occurring socially challenging situations. One task was to perform a 3-minute speech on a persuasive argument in front of 3 independent raters. The second task was an interaction task were participants were told they would be introduced to someone and then have 3 minutes to find out everything they could about that person. Independent raters used the Social Performance Rating Scale (SPRS) to rate participants.

The results showed that higher levels of social anxiety were associated with higher observer ratings of behavioral discomfort (fidgeting, trembling, etc.) during the interaction task, but did not impair other aspects of performance. Additionally no statistical difference was found between impairment of females vs. males. The authors concluded “The current results suggest that, at the non-clinical level at least, social anxiety may magnify the visible signs of anxiety but have little impact on other social behavior dimensions that were assessed here” (Thompson et al., 2019).

How common are visible symptoms of social anxiety for those who don’t meet the criteria for the disorder? In what ways do you help clients learn that observable behaviors don’t necessarily impact the performance of a task?

Thompson, T., Van Zalk, N., Marshall, C., Sargeant, M., & Stubbs, B. Social anxiety increases visible anxiety signs during social encounters but does not impair performance. BMC Psychology 7, article 24; April 23, 2019.

Zach Pacha, LISW, ACT
Mental Health Therapist

Representative of NSAC Des Moines
(The Anxiety and OCD Center of Iowa)