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Social affiliation: A model of anxious avoidance in women

Milena Stoyanova, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


There is substantial evidence demonstrating that women experience greater anxiety and fear compared to men. However, our understanding of specific factors accounting for women's greater vulnerability remains rather limited. Taylor and colleagues (2000) proposed that women may have a different biobehavioral response to stress, which has evolved to protect and nurture offspring. The tend-and-befriend model provides new opportunities to explore underlying processes that may contribute to women's greater anxiety and fear. The present study examined women's stress response combined with the absence of positive social contact as it relates to the presentation of fear and anxiety. One hundred and seven women completed a battery of questionnaires and following a conversation with other participants were informed that no one had chosen to work with them for the next task. Following the initial social rejection, we manipulated social contact by providing bogus feedback based on their personality profiles informing them that they are likely to have a lonely future (future alone), or that they will have many fulfilling relationships (future belonging), or did not give any information about their future (control). Then, participants completed a behavioral approach task (BAT), which entailed approaching a live tarantula. Self-reported affect and salivary cortisol were measured throughout the experiment, and subjective anxiety and behavioral avoidance was assessed during the BAT. Surprisingly, there was no effect on cortisol secretion following the social rejection and the future social contact condition, although there were significant differences in self-reported affect following the social stressors. The social rejection resulted in elevated negative affect and participants in the future alone condition displayed an increase in negative affect compared to participants in the future belonging and control conditions following the future social contact manipulation. Contrary to our expectation, the manipulation about future social contact did not have an effect on avoidance behavior or subjective anxiety during the BAT. Limitations, future directions, and implications of the current findings are discussed.

Subject Area

Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Stoyanova, Milena, "Social affiliation: A model of anxious avoidance in women" (2013). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3567961.