Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Depressive Personality Styles and Social Anxiety in Young Adults

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Depressive Personality Styles and Social Anxiety in Young Adults

Article excerpt

We examined the role of three depression-related cognitive personality styles in young adults' social anxiety: evaluation concerns, positive achievement striving, and dependency. Sixty-nine undergraduates were administered measures of the aforementioned personality variables, depressive symptoms, and social anxiety. Controlling for participants' depressive symptoms, we found that evaluation concerns, particularly self-criticism, predicted elevated levels of social anxiety. Dependency also predicted elevated social anxiety, but this effect was small and marginally significant (p = .05). Finally, positive achievement striving predicted low levels of social anxiety but only in the presence of evaluation concerns. Findings are consistent with earlier theoretical conceptualizations of social anxiety as reflecting low self-worth.

Keywords: social anxiety; depressive personality; self-criticism; evaluation concerns; achievement striving

Various theoretical conceptualizations of social anxiety point out the role of low self-worth in this condition (Clark & Wells, 1995; Leary, Kowalski, & Campbell, 1988). Recently, these conceptualizations received empirical support from studies examining the associations between self-criticism and social phobia (Cox, Flett, & Stein, 2004; Cox, Walker, Enns, & Karpinski, 2002; Cox et al., 2000). Defined as individuals' tendency to set unrealistically high standards for performance and to adopt a punitive stance towards the self once these standards are not met (Shahar, 2001), self-criticism has been demonstrated to be a serious vulnerability factor for unipolar depression (for review, see Blatt, 1995; Blatt, Shahar, & Zuroff, 2001; Shahar, 2001, 2004). Yet Cox et al. (2000) reported that in outpatients with social phobia, levels of selfcriticism were as high as those of depressed outpatients, with both groups showing significantly higher levels of self-criticism than outpatients with panic disorder. In a subsequent study, Cox et al. (2002) demonstrated the prognostic significance of self-criticism in a sample of outpatients with social phobia. These investigators showed that change in self-criticism over the course of cognitive-behavioral treatment was significantly associated with improvement in symptoms of social anxiety, even after controlling for baseline depressive and social phobia symptoms. In a third study, Cox et al. (2004) analyzed data from the National Comorbidity Survey (NCS; Kessler et al., 1994). They found that self-criticism was elevated in NCS respondents with a diagnosis of social phobia, even in cases of only past history of this condition. Moreover, the levels of self-criticism in socially phobic individuals were significantly greater compared to respondents with panic disorder. The highest level of self-criticism was reported by patients with generalized social anxiety and in comorbid social phobia-depression conditions.

The purpose of the present study is to extend these findings by locating the associations between self-criticism and social anxiety in the broader context of literature on depressive personality styles. Cognitive personality constructs similar to self-criticism, such as perfectionism, feature predominantly in the psychopathology literature (for review, see Blatt, 1995; Shahar, 2001). Hewitt, Flett, and colleagues distinguished between self-oriented perfectionism (one's expectation from oneself to meet standards of perfection), other-oriented perfectionism (one's expectations that significant others meet standards of perfection), and socially prescribed perfectionism (one's perception that others expect him or her to meet standards of perfection) and developed the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (MPS) to assess these dimensions (Hewitt & Flett, 1989, 1991, 1993). Similarly, Frost and his colleagues identified several dimensions of perfectionism, including excessive concern over making mistakes, high personal standards, perception of high parental expectations and parental criticism, doubt regarding the quality of one's actions, and a preference for order and organization. …

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