Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Articulated Thoughts and Styles of Self-Presentation in Heterosexual Anxiety

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Articulated Thoughts and Styles of Self-Presentation in Heterosexual Anxiety

Article excerpt

This study adopted a self-presentation perspective to examine cognitive factors involved in maintaining social anxiety in men in heterosexual situations. The self-regulatory appraisals of 25 socially anxious and 25 nonanxious men were compared using a modified version of the Articulated Thoughts in Simulated Situations (ATSS) procedure (Davison, Robins, & Johnson, 1983). Subjects viewed videotapes of two enacted situations between a male actor and a female actor which differed on whether the individuals were strangers or acquaintances. The subjects were instructed to identify with different male actors who depicted contrasting styles of self-presentation. In contrast to nonanxious men, socially anxious subjects consistently made pessimistic self-appraisals, articulating more negative self-focused thoughts, and displaying negative self-other biases. However, nonanxious men showed equivalent levels of self-focused negative thoughts in response to representations of a protective style of self-presentation. Unexpectedly, for all subjects, the less intimate first meeting situation elicited more negative self-focused thoughts than did the more intimate dating situation. The findings are discussed in terms of self-regulatory components of self-presentational styles and the implications for treatment of social anxiety.

Self-presentational theorists propose that much of an individual's social behavior is directed toward achieving two integrated goals: obtaining social approval and acceptance from others and constructing a desired public self-image (Schlenker & Leary, 1982,1985). However, a person's pursuit of self-presentational goals is considered to be influenced by social risk; that is, the person's subjective appraisals of situations in terms of the likelihood of failure, embarrassment, rejection or loss of social status in the encounter (Arkin, 1981; Arkin, Lake, & Baumgartner, 1986)

Behaviorally, people react to social risk by adopting either an 'acquisitive' or a 'protective' style. The acquisitive style reflects an individual's subjective judgment that the social risk can be handled, and leads to the active pursuit of desired self-presentational goals. The protective style is a defensive maneuver, derived from a judgment that the level of risk is too great. Here, the individual is primarily motivated by a need to avoid disapproval rather than to gain approval. Hence, the self-image presented is the one assumed to carry the least risk of rejection.

It follows from Arkin's model that the protective style of self-presentation should be associated with social anxiety because a heightened perception of social risk is concomitant with pessimistic appraisals of the person's capacity to meet self-presentational goals. In support of this, it is well-documented that people who are chronically socially anxious have intense fears of disapproval and rejection which are accompanied by pronounced self-doubts about their social skills (e.g., Barrios, 1983; Cacioppo, Glass, & Merluzzi, 1979; Craighead, Kimball, & Rehak, 1977; Goldfhed& Sobosinski, 1975; Hartman, 1983; Smith, Ingram, &Brehm, 1983). The protective style of self-presentation is evident in the conversational behavior of socially anxious people and has been characterized as 'innocuous sociability' (Leary, 1983). In contrast to socially competent people, socially anxious individuals have been shown to participate less fully in their conversations, to be less responsive to their conversational partners, and to make fewer self-disclosures, especially about their own positive characteristics (e.g., Faraone & Hurtig, 1985; Leary, Knight, & Johnson, 1987; Meleshko & Alden, 1993; Pilkonis, 1977).

Research into the thoughts of socially anxious people during social interactions is also consistent with the self-presentational formulation of social anxiety. In contrast to nonanxious individuals, clinical and analogue samples of socially anxious individuals show higher rates of endorsement of negative self-statement items and lower rates of endorsement for positive self-statement items (e. …

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