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Social anxiety and memory deficit for information about others Biggs, Edward Eugene


Cognitive factors have been identified as critical variables in the origin and maintenance of interpersonal dysfunction associated with high social anxiety. Although evidence of a memory deficit accompanying general anxiety states is abundant, studies of memory accompanying social anxiety have failed to demonstrate a deficit. Previous studies of memory deficit in social anxiety have measured only retention of evaluative feedback, the present study investigated memory more typical of interpersonal encounters, the recall of information about others. Forty-eight high socially anxious males and forty-eight low anxious males were asked to listen to a tape recording of self-disclosures either during an interaction with the self-discloser or in private. Following an interim task, each subject was then asked to recall the information from the tape either in the presence of the female self-discloser or in private. This design allowed for social anxiety provoking manipulation at encoding to be completely crossed with social anxiety manipulation at retrieval. Multiple measures of memory were taken and analyzed with a multivariate procedure. It was hypothesized that a situational deficit would occur for the high socially anxious subjects when they were encoding the other-referent information in a social context. Additionally, it was hypothesized that high socially anxious subjects would recall more affective as opposed to neutral information, and more negative items than positive or neutral. The results confirmed that memory is disturbed for high socially anxious subjects when in a social context, and specifically the disturbance occurs at the encoding phase. Results regarding the recall of affective material were contrary to prediction and suggest that high socially anxious subjects selectively process less affective material than do low socially anxious subjects. The results are supportive of a cognitive perspective arguing that dysfunctional interpersonal experiences may stem from impoverished, incomplete, and barren schema that guide the social behavior. The presence of a recall deficit along with intact recognition memory suggests that information about others is attended to but not processed 'deeply' or elaborately enough to be available on a free recall basis. The identification of memory deficit as a component of social anxiety provides a variety of new intervention possibilities including social memory enhancement programs, interventions aimed at unearthing poorly encoded memories, and strategies focused on attention to affective messages.

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