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Physiological reactivity in adolescent social anxiety: Implications for the manifestation and development of social phobia

Jeffrey Brian Caster, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Only relatively recently has the psychological community become aware of the high prevalence of psychopathology in adolescence. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the influence of multiple physiological mechanisms on the manifestation of social anxiety in an adolescent population. It was theorized that an individual's physiological reactivity may influence their perceptions and interpretations of social situations which may in turn facilitate the development of social anxiety in certain individuals. Furthermore, socially anxious individuals may interpret social situations as anxiety provoking, in part, because of increased levels of physiological reactivity to social situations. The present study attempted to address the limitations of past research by investigating adolescent participants using multiple physiological measurements, using multiple, longer behavioral tasks, and comparing the participants' perceptions of their physiological reactivity to actual measurements of physiological reactivity. ^ One hundred and eleven adolescents took part in the present study. A diagnostic interview and self-report measures were used to classify the adolescents into one of three groups; a Social Phobic group, a Sub-Clinical Social Anxiety group, and a Normal Control group. Results from the present study indicate that the participants in the three groups did not differ from one another with regard to the physiological measures. Results also indicate that adolescents in the social phobic group perceived themselves as more physiologically aroused than the social anxiety and normal control groups in spite of having nearly identical physiological reactivity. Findings also indicate that socially phobic adolescents may misperceive their body as being excessively physiologically active, leading them to believe they are experiencing anxiety. Furthermore, adolescents experiencing social phobia may cognitively inflate their body's normal physiological activity perpetuating their feelings of anxiety. Conversely, a non-anxious adolescent may more accurately perceive his/her body's physiological activity, which may shield him/her from unwarranted anxiety. The implications of the current study's results are discussed, specifically their implications on current etiological theories of social phobia and treatment suggestions to be incorporated into treatment protocols. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Clinical|Psychology, Physiological

Recommended Citation

Caster, Jeffrey Brian, "Physiological reactivity in adolescent social anxiety: Implications for the manifestation and development of social phobia" (2001). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3009714.