Lonely individuals may decode social cues well but have difficulty putting such skills to use precisely when they need them--in social situations. In four studies, we examined whether lonely people choke under social pressure by asking participants to complete social sensitivity tasks framed as diagnostic of social skills or nonsocial skills. Across studies, lonely participants performed worse than nonlonely participants on social sensitivity tasks framed as tests of social aptitude, but they performed just as well or better than the nonlonely when the same tasks were framed as tests of academic aptitude. Mediational analyses in Study 3 and misattribution effects in Study 4 indicate that anxiety plays an important role in this choking effect. This research suggests that lonely individuals may not need to acquire social skills to escape loneliness; instead, they must learn to cope with performance anxiety in interpersonal interactions.
Keywords: anxiety; choking under pressure; interpersonal sensitivity; loneliness; task framing.
© 2015 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.