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Vulnerability factors low control and high negative affect in the development of social anxiety and the use of safety behaviors

Michel F Bonin, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Socially anxious individuals often avoid situations as they experience a debilitating fear of negative evaluation (e.g., Rapee & Heimberg, 1997). However, there are individuals who engage in threatening situations and endure their anxiety using specific safety behaviors (e.g., Salkovskis, 1991). Unfortunately, using safety behaviors maintain symptoms of social anxiety (e.g., Clark & Wells, 1995). High trait negative affect, low trait positive affect, and low perceive control are other factors associated with the development and maintenance of social anxiety (e.g., Barlow, 2002). ^ Three-hundred and thirty-three university students completed a battery of questionnaires assessing for positive and negative affect, perceived control, social anxiety, and the use of safety behaviors. Six vignettes were also included describing social situations commonly encountered by college students. Questions following each vignette assessed for the likelihood that individuals would experience anxiety, avoid or leave a threatening social situation, have the ability to deal with a situation, and experience negative outcomes. Participants also had the opportunity to endorse the likelihood that they would engage in safety behaviors in each social situation. Multivariate analysis of variance, multiple regression analyses, and factor analysis procedures were performed to better understand the relationship among these factors. Structural equation modeling techniques also were conducted to test the goodness-of-fit of a hypothesized model. ^ Similar to past research, higher negative affect and lowered perceptions of control increased individuals’ likelihood of developing symptoms of social anxiety. Study results also suggested a positive relationship between social anxiety and the use of safety behaviors. Contrary to past studies, we found inconsistent results for the relationship between trait positive affect and social anxiety. Moreover, it was found that using short vignettes was sufficient for individuals to make predictions about their expected level of anxiety, ability to deal with a situation, possibility of experiencing negative outcomes, and likelihood of avoiding, escaping, and/or using safety behaviors to cope. Clinical implications and direction for future research are discussed. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Clinical

Recommended Citation

Bonin, Michel F, "Vulnerability factors low control and high negative affect in the development of social anxiety and the use of safety behaviors" (2009). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3358954.