What Does Your Anxiety Mean About You? Evaluation of Anxious and Confident Partners in Social Anxiety Disorder
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Individuals with social anxiety engage in maladaptive interpersonal transactional cycles. They expect others to respond negatively to them, and engage in socially undesirable behaviours that lead to their predictions being realized (Alden & Taylor, 2004). In exploring mechanisms underlying these expectancies, we previously found that participants high in social anxiety overvalue confidence as an indicator of interpersonal desirability. We hypothesized that this perception may exaggerate the perceived inferiority of the self as compared to confident others, thereby fuelling socially avoidant behaviour. The present study extended those findings by manipulating and studying social comparisons as a possible mechanism fuelling negative interpersonal expectancies. Participants with social anxiety disorder (SAD) and healthy controls (HCs) were randomized to watch a confederate (who was believed to be a fellow participant) deliver a speech in either a visibly anxious or confident manner. Participants then rated their perceptions of the presenter’s desirability (i.e., the extent to which he possesses various desirable attributes) and their desire for future interaction with him. Subsequently, they were asked to compare themselves to the presenter before they delivered their own speeches. Participant speeches were subsequently rated by coders. We hypothesized that observable signs of anxiety and confidence displayed by potential social partners represent important indicators of social desirability and would moderate desire for future interaction amongst participants with SAD. Results suggest that all participants irrespective of social anxiety status judged the visibly anxious presenter as being less desirable and less interested in interacting overall. The more favourably participants rated the presenter’s desirability relative to their own, the more they wished to interact with him in the future. Coders also rated participants with SAD as less desirable, and as less interpersonally warm than HCs. Thus, visibly anxious individuals may be judged by others as being less desirable in general (i.e., having less positive qualities or social currency), as less warm, and as less interested in interacting socially. On the other hand, confident individuals were seen consistently as more desirable, warm, pleasant, and appealing to interact with. As a result of this favourable social standing and increased interpersonal options resulting from it, these individuals may therefore be viewed as being unattainable as social partners for individuals who are themselves visibly anxious. One implication of these findings is that socially anxious individuals may need help conveying interpersonal warmth and interest to potential social partners in order to allow such partners to see past the social anxiety and discover the positive qualities of the anxious individual. Theoretical and treatment implications of these findings to cognitive and interpersonal models of SAD are considered.