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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Social anxiety and empathy for social pain Auyeung, Karen Wei


Social relationships are a vital component of human experience. An important part of developing positive social relationships is the ability to experience and express empathy for other people’s emotions (Baron-Cohen & Wheelwright, 2004). Unfortunately, building and maintaining positive relationships does not come easily to everyone. Individuals with social anxiety disorder have particular difficulty with emotion judgment, a central element of empathy. Despite these difficulties, findings from my previous research suggested that, faced with social threat, socially anxious individuals make more accurate judgments of others’ negative emotions compared to non-anxious individuals. The current research combined models of empathy, social anxiety, and social exclusion, to examine how social anxiety influenced the accuracy of emotion judgments, and whether social exclusion influenced this relationship. Across three studies, I investigated 1) the relationship between social anxiety and empathic accuracy, 2) potential mechanisms in the relationship between social anxiety and empathic accuracy, 3) the role of social exclusion on these relationships, and 4) the relationship between social anxiety, empathic accuracy, and positive social behaviours. Two studies were conducted in university undergraduate samples and a third study extended this research into a clinical community population. The findings have the potential to contribute to the understanding of socially anxious populations and inform treatments that may improve their interpersonal relationships.

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