Measuring, Understanding, and Evoking Fear of Positive Evaluation in Social Anxiety
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We present a series of three studies designed to investigate fear of positive evaluation in social anxiety. In study 1, we developed the Positive Evaluation Beliefs Scale (PEBS) and administered it to a large undergraduate sample (N= 258) to assess two competing explanations for fear of positive evaluation: fear of social reprisal, and fear of inadequacy. In study 2, we recruited a second sample of undergraduate participants (N = 101), to confirm that the beliefs measured by the PEBS were distinct from fear of negative evaluation, and had unique utility in predicting social anxiety symptoms. In study 3, high socially anxious (n = 36) and low socially anxious (n = 32) undergraduates took part in a laboratory-based “getting acquainted” task where they provided ratings of affect, anxiety, and fears of positive and negative evaluation in anticipation of receiving public feedback on a filmed introduction of themselves that they had made for an unknown social partner whom they expected they would later meet. Results from studies 1 and 2 revealed that both types of beliefs assessed by the PEBS are associated with fear of positive evaluation, suggesting that fear of positive evaluation is a multifaceted construct comprised of a variety of overlapping beliefs. In study 3, all participants rated the prospect of positive evaluation as anxiety reducing, a finding which raises important questions about the ecological validity of the construct of fear of positive evaluation. The research and treatment implications of these findings will be discussed within the context of contemporary cognitive-behavioral and evolutionary models of social anxiety.