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Social anxiety diminishes positive experiences: researchers also find more suppression of emotion among participants with social anxiety.

MIAMI -- Socially anxious people report fewer positive experiences and greater suppression of emotion than their nonanxious counterparts do, Todd B. Kashdan, Ph.D., reported at the annual conference of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America.

These findings support a look beyond negative experiences and events--which have been the primary focus of research for the past 20 years.

And this negative focus has limited social anxiety research to date, said Dr. Kashdan, director, Laboratory for the Study of Social Anxiety, Character Strengths, and Related Phenomena, department of psychology, George Mason University, Fairfax, Va.

"Depression is distinguished from anxiety because of lower positive affect and lower interaction, but the 20 years of this research failed to include social anxiety," Dr. Kashdan said.

"What is interesting is how social anxiety relates to positive experiences and events in everyday lives."

To determine the effects of trait and daily fluctuations in social anxiety, Dr. Kashdan and his associate Michael F. Steger, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, assessed 97 introductory psychology college students (Psychol. Sci. 2006;17:120-8).

There were 66 females, and the mean age was 20 years.

Dr. Kashdan and his colleagues assessed trait social anxiety with the following global self-report measures: a 19-item Social Interaction Anxiety Scale, a 10-item Emotion Regulation Questionnaire, a 20-item Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS), and a 20-item Center for Epidemiology Studies Depression Scale.

Participants completed positive affect and activity measures along with daily entries in a diary for 21 days.

These measures included a customized 7-item measure of daily social anxiety, an 8-item selection from the Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (to gauge suppression of emotion), 5 items from the PANAS, and 18 positive daily activity options extracted from the Daily Events Survey.

"Remember that some social anxiety is normal," Dr. Kashdan said. "It becomes problematic when behavior is rigid, chronic, and inflexible."

Socially anxious people expend a lot of energy to avoid situations where they might be rejected or viewed negatively, Dr. Kashdan said. However, when evasion of social failure becomes their primary goal, it comes at the price of diminished positive experiences and events.

In addition, people who suppress their emotions the most in an attempt to regulate their social anxiety are more likely to experience the greatest distress, he said. Dr. Kashdan and his colleagues predicted, therefore, that those participants who were socially anxious would report the fewest positive emotions and events on days when the participants reported the most anxiety and greatest suppression of their emotions.

People with trait social anxiety reported 39% fewer positive events, compared with nonanxious study participants. Trait social anxiety was also inversely associated with daily positive emotions and positively related to daily tendencies to suppress emotions.

Because participants recorded daily fluctuations in social anxiety levels, researchers were able to look for a "dose-response" effect.

"What is more interesting is, of those with social anxiety disorder who report the most social anxiety and suppress their emotions the most, 24% had fewer positive events than others with social anxiety," Dr. Kashdan said.

The most anxious participants scored at least one standard deviation above the mean on both measures. "So it's not just anxiety, it's how you relate to your emotion," he said.

"These findings suggest that when socially anxious individuals engage in experiential avoidance in response to social anxiety, their pursuit of positive-appetitive behaviors and goals is disrupted," the researchers wrote.

"Our data extend a growing body of research identifying diminished frequency and intensity of positive emotions and events as a core feature of excessive social anxiety."

To obtain a copy of the full journal article or related work by Dr. Kashdan and his associates, visit


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Author:McNamara, Damian
Publication:Clinical Psychiatry News
Article Type:Disease/Disorder overview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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