Social Anxiety Disorder and Social Skills: A Critical Review of the Literature

By Angelico, Antonio Paulo; Crippa, Jose Alexandre S. et al. | The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

Social Anxiety Disorder and Social Skills: A Critical Review of the Literature


Angelico, Antonio Paulo, Crippa, Jose Alexandre S., Loureiro, Sonia Regina, The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy


Social skills are in general considered to be essential for the processes of social adjustment and functioning of individuals, whether they have psychiatric disorders or not (Angelico, 2004; Argyle, 1967/1994; Bandeira, 2003; Halford & Hayes, 1995; Morrison & Bellack, 1987; Turner, Beidel & Flood, 2003; Turner, Beidel & Townsley, 1992; Zigler & Phillips, 1962).

Social skills can be defined as "different classes of social behavior within the individuals repertoire to deal appropriately with demands of interpersonal situations" (Del Prette & Del Prette, 2001, p. 31), considering the situation in its wide meaning, including culture variables (Argyle, Furnahm & Grahan, 1981). Such concept comprehends the descriptive aspect of the verbal and non-verbal behavior displayed by the individual before different demands of the interpersonal situations. It is necessary to distinguish this concept from that of social performance, which refers to displaying a behavior or sequence of behaviors in a certain social situation. Del Prette and Del Prette (2001) add that both cognitive abilities of social perception and information processing which define, organize and guide social performance, and verbal and non-verbal behavioral abilities which implement the direction defined by the cognitive processes are grouped in the concept of social skills.

Social skills deficits are considered to hinder social functioning and the adaptative ability of individuals, with several implications and several impairments, especially for performance and social interactions. Impairment in social skills has been assumed as one of the paramount aspects of social anxiety disorder (SAD), which is considered a serious mental health problem because of its high prevalence and its resulting limitations on social interactions and performance. According to the diagnostic criteria from DSM-IV (APA, 1994), individuals with SAD or social phobia exhibit excessive, persistent and irrational fear of being seen behaving in a humiliating or embarrassing way--by the display of anxiety or inappropriate performance--and of disapproval consequences or rejection by others.

One might hypothesize that individuals with SAD lack appropriate verbal or non-verbal abilities which are necessary to deal with social interactions or performance situations. However, according to the review by Furmark (2000), research data have been inconsistent. Consequently, such direct association is arguable, considering that people with SAD, notwithstanding appearing to have inadequate performance, this might be due to behavioral inhibition, as opposed to actual lack of abilities. It is possible that social skills are just withdrawn during states of high anxiety, like those associated with situations of performance and interaction for individuals with SAD. In this case, in particular, it would be desirable to develop and encourage coping abilities in the repertoire of these individuals, and in many cases the use of relaxation techniques or task concentration training would be indicated.

When evaluating the types of deficits that the individual may display in his or her repertoire of social skills, one can stress: a) acquisition deficit, characterized by the non-occurrence of social skills before the demands of the environment; b) performance deficit, characterized by the occurrence of a specific ability with lower frequency than the one expected for the demands of the environment; and c) fluency deficit, demonstrated by the occurrence of abilities with lower proficiency than the one expected for the social demands.

* Objective

Considering the role of anxiety in the inhibition of socially competent performance and the inconsistency of data regarding the association between SAD and social skill, an examination was carried out to identify in the indexed literature, between the years 2000 and March of 2007, the empirical papers which cover this subject, aiming to realize a critical analysis of the research outlines used in these study. …

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