Anxiety, emotional security and the interpersonal behavior of individuals with social anxiety disorder

Psychol Med. 2011 Mar;41(3):545-54. doi: 10.1017/S0033291710000863. Epub 2010 May 12.


Background: Interpersonal functioning is central to social anxiety disorder (SAD). Empirical examinations of interpersonal behaviors in individuals with SAD have frequently relied on analogue samples, global retrospective reports and laboratory observation. Moreover, research has focused on avoidance and safety behaviors, neglecting potential links between SAD and affiliative behaviors.

Method: The influence of situational anxiety and emotional security on interpersonal behaviors was examined for individuals with SAD (n=40) and matched normal controls (n=40). Participants monitored their behavior and affect in naturally occurring social interactions using an event-contingent recording procedure.

Results: Individuals with SAD reported higher levels of submissive behavior and lower levels of dominant behavior relative to controls. Consistent with cognitive-behavioral and evolutionary theories, elevated anxiety in specific events predicted increased submissiveness among individuals with SAD. Consistent with attachment theory, elevations in event-level emotional security were associated with increased affiliative behaviors (increased agreeable behavior and decreased quarrelsome behavior) among members of the SAD group. Results were not accounted for by concurrent elevations in sadness or between-group differences in the distribution of social partners.

Conclusions: These findings are consistent with predictions based on several theoretical perspectives. Further, the present research documents naturally occurring interpersonal patterns of individuals with SAD and identifies conditions under which these individuals may view social interactions as opportunities for interpersonal connectedness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology*
  • Social Behavior