Academic journal article Journal of Evidence-Based Psychotherapies

Being Socially Anxious Is Not Enough: Response Expectancy Mediates the Effect of Social Anxiety on State Anxiety in Response to a Social-Evaluative Threat

Academic journal article Journal of Evidence-Based Psychotherapies

Being Socially Anxious Is Not Enough: Response Expectancy Mediates the Effect of Social Anxiety on State Anxiety in Response to a Social-Evaluative Threat

Article excerpt

When thinking about known facts in psychopathology, one example that comes to mind is the relation between social anxiety and state anxiety in response to social-evaluative situations. It has been known that socially anxious individuals experience higher anxiety in response to evaluative situations (e.g., public speaking) relative to non-socially anxious people (for a review, see Jamieson, Nock, & Mendes, 2013). Therefore, various explanatory cognitive mechanisms of the social anxiety-state anxiety relationship have been put forward by cognitive and cognitive-behavioral models of social anxiety (Clark & Wells, 1995; Hofmann, 2007; Rapee & Heimberg, 1997). Suggestions include inwardly oriented attention to negative self-focused cognitions, low perceived emotional control, and negative evaluation of one's own performance.

The few studies that have examined the underlying cognitive mediators of the social anxiety-state anxiety dyad have provided support for the cognitive and cognitive-behavioral models of social anxiety (Clark & Wells, 1995; Hofmann, 2007; Rapee & Heimberg, 1997). For instance, Schulz, Alpers, and Hofmann (2008) found that negative self-focused cognitions fully accounted for the relation between social anxiety and state anxiety in social evaluative situations. Similarly, Beard and Amir (2010) found that interpretation bias, described as the tendency to interpret ambiguous stimuli as threatening, mediated the effect of social anxiety on state anxiety in response to a speech task.

As it seems that there is no direct pathway from social anxiety to state anxiety, advancing our understanding of the mediators underlying this relationship could help psychological interventions to focus on specific mechanisms when addressing social anxiety in stressful situations. Therefore, it is important to investigate as many candidates as possible for the relationship between social anxiety and state anxiety. One variable of interest could be response expectancy for anxiety (e.g., "I expect to be anxious while giving a speech").

Concerning response expectancy (i.e., expectancy regarding non-volitional responses; Kirsch, 1985; 1999), there is a robust literature supporting its impact on a broad area of non-volitional responses, like pain, hypnosis, and anxiety. Restricting the focus to emotional responses, response expectancies were associated with distress (e.g., Cristea et al., 2011; DiLorenzo, David, & Montgomery, 2011; Montgomery, David, Dilorenzo, & Schnur, 2007; Sohl et al., 2012), public speaking anxiety (e.g., Schoenberger, Kirsch, Gearan, Montgomery, & Pastyrnak, 1997), and various other phobic responses (e.g., Schoenberger, Kirsch, & Rosengard, 1991). Given the robust findings supporting the role of response expectancies in non-volitional responses, the investigation of this specific variable as a potential mediator of the social anxiety-state anxiety relationship is warranted for two main reasons, detailed below.

First, response expectancies are hypothesized to be sufficient to cause non-volitional emotional responses, unmediated by another cognitive variable (Kirsch, 1985; 1999). Indeed, there are studies indicating that in a mediational pathway response expectancies are proximal, unmediated, and in a dose-response relationship to distress and anxiety in stressful situations (Schoenberger et al., 1997). Second, not only are response expectancies proximal to non-volitional responses, but alterations in response expectancy reflect alterations in non-volitional responses and early studies revealed favorable results in this respect (for a review, see Kirsch, 1985).

The present study

As part of a larger study, we sought to extend the research regarding the cognitive mediators of the relationship between social anxiety and state anxiety in social-evaluative situations. Based on previous arguments, we predicted that the impact of social anxiety on state anxiety in an impromptu speech task delivered in front of a video-camera would be mediated by response expectancies for anxiety. …

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