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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Predicting and changing avoidance goals in social interaction anxiety Trew, Jennifer Lea


Social anxiety is associated with social performance deficits, interpersonal problems, and negative affective responses to social interactions. It has also been linked to reduced approach motivation and enhanced avoidance motivation. Models of self-regulation (e.g., Gable, 2006) suggest that social goals may contribute to interpersonal and affective difficulties, yet little research has addressed this issue in the context of social anxiety. The present studies evaluated a hierarchical model of approach and avoidance in social interaction anxiety, with affect hypothesized to be a mediating factor in the relationship between general motivational tendencies and idiographic social goals. This model was developed and refined using questionnaire data from a sample of 186 undergraduate students and was cross validated in a second sample of 195 undergraduates. The findings support hierarchical relationships between general motivational tendencies, social interaction anxiety, affect, and social goals. Interestingly, positive affect inversely predicted social avoidance goals in both samples. Based on these findings, a third study assessed whether a technique that increases positive affect also reduces social avoidance goals in social anxiety. A sample of 115 undergraduates high in social interaction anxiety were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: performing kind acts (AK; N = 38), a condition that has been shown to increase positive affect in socially anxious individuals (Alden & Trew, 2012); decreasing social avoidance (SA; N = 41), a condition that directly targets avoidance; and recording life details (N = 36), a standard emotionally neutral control condition (e.g., Lyubomirsky, Dickerhoof, Boehm, & Sheldon, 2011). The findings indicate that, although AK did not increase positive affect relative to the other two conditions, it did decrease social avoidance goals, an effect that was mediated by reductions in social anxiety. SA was associated with reduced social anxiety and increased relatedness need satisfaction, self-esteem, and positive social activities. Although a reduction in social avoidance goals was not evident in this group at post-intervention, multilevel modelling analyses suggest that social avoidance may decrease with additional time. The implications of these findings for models of approach and avoidance, positive affect techniques, and the treatment of social anxiety are discussed.

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