Anticipatory processing in social anxiety

Hinrichsen, Hendrik (1999). Anticipatory processing in social anxiety. PhD thesis The Open University.



Socially anxious individuals often report considerable anticipatory anxiety. A recent cognitive model of social phobia (Clark & Wells, 1995) has suggested that while anticipating a social situation, socially anxious people engage in four biased cognitive processes. First, they recall and dwell on past perceived failures. Second, they construct negative observer-perspective images of how they think they may appear toothers. Third, they focus their attention on their bodily sensations and negative thoughts. Finally, they use their observed bodily sensations, negative thoughts and self-constructed images to predict how poorly they will perform in the anticipated social situation. These hypothesised processes were investigated in two studies.In the first study (Experiment 1), 20 high and 20 low socially anxious individuals were given a semi-structured interview which focussed on their mental processes during periods of anticipatory anxiety. The results of the interview were broadly consistent with the four hypotheses and provided additional data about the nature of functional and dysfunctional anticipatory processing.

In a second study (Experiment 2), the effects of dysfunctional anticipatory processing on levels of social anxiety and confidence were investigated. Twenty high and 20 low socially anxious individuals engaged in either the dysfunctional anticipatory processes identified in study one or a distraction task prior to giving a video-taped speech. The results showed that individuals who engaged in dysfunctional anticipatory processing prior to giving the speech, felt more anxious but not less confident before and during the speech than individuals who had engaged in the distraction task.

The results of the two studies are discussed in relation to the cognitive model of social phobia (Clark & Wells, 1995) and limitations of the experimental designs are highlighted. It is argued that research from worry may provide an explanation for the maintenance of dysfunctional anticipatory processing in socially anxious individuals,and _a theoretical approach to the maintenance of dysfunctional anticipatory processing in social anxiety is outlined which integrates the findings from the present study with other research findings. Finally, the implications of the present findings for the treatment of anticipatory social anxiety are discussed, and recommendations for future research are made.

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