Social context and the real-world consequences of social anxiety

Juyoen Hur, Kathryn A. Deyoung, Samiha Islam, Allegra S. Anderson, Matthew G. Barstead, Alexander J. Shackman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Background Social anxiety lies on a continuum, and young adults with elevated symptoms are at risk for developing a range of psychiatric disorders. Yet relatively little is known about the factors that govern the hour-by-hour experience and expression of social anxiety in the real world.Methods Here we used smartphone-based ecological momentary assessment (EMA) to intensively sample emotional experience across different social contexts in the daily lives of 228 young adults selectively recruited to represent a broad spectrum of social anxiety symptoms.Results Leveraging data from over 11 000 real-world assessments, our results highlight the central role of close friends, family members, and romantic partners. The presence of such close companions was associated with enhanced mood, yet socially anxious individuals had fewer confidants and spent less time with the close companions that they do have. Although higher levels of social anxiety were associated with a general worsening of mood, socially anxious individuals appear to derive larger benefits - lower levels of negative affect, anxiety, and depression - from their close companions. In contrast, variation in social anxiety was unrelated to the amount of time spent with strangers, co-workers, and acquaintances; and we uncovered no evidence of emotional hypersensitivity to these less-familiar individuals.Conclusions These findings provide a framework for understanding the deleterious consequences of social anxiety in emerging adulthood and set the stage for developing improved intervention strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1989-2000
Number of pages12
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Sept 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
L. Friedman, R. Tillman, and members of the Affective and Translational Neuroscience laboratory and constructive feedback from four anonymous reviewers and K. Rubin. This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (DA040717, MH107444) and University of Maryland. Authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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