Social anxiety disorder: a critical overview of neurocognitive research

Wiley Interdiscip Rev Cogn Sci. 2016 Jul;7(4):218-32. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1390. Epub 2016 May 30.


Social anxiety is a common disorder characterized by a persistent and excessive fear of one or more social or performance situations. Behavioral inhibition is one of the early indicators of social anxiety, which later in life may advance into a certain personality structure (low extraversion and high neuroticism) and the development of maladaptive cognitive biases. While there are several effective psycho- and pharmacotherapy options, a large number of patients benefit insufficiently from these therapies. Brain and neuroendocrine research can help uncover both the biological basis of social anxiety and potentially provide indicators, 'biomarkers,' that may be informative for early disease detection or treatment response, above and beyond self-report data. Several large-scale brain networks related to emotion, motivation, cognitive control, and self-referential processing have been identified, and are affected in social anxiety. Social anxiety is further characterized by increased cortisol response and lower testosterone levels. These neuroendocrine systems are also related to altered connectivity patterns, such as reduced amygdala-prefrontal coupling. Much work is needed however to further elucidate such interactions between neuroendocrine functioning and large-scale brain networks. Despite the great promise of brain research in uncovering the neurobiological basis of social anxiety, several methodological and conceptual issues also need to be considered. WIREs Cogn Sci 2016, 7:218-232. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1390 For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiopathology*
  • Phobia, Social / physiopathology*
  • Phobia, Social / psychology*
  • Phobia, Social / therapy