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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Nonverbal sensitivity as a function of social anxiety Block, Loretta Anna May


While clinical research has led to the development of treatment programs which have effectively reduced social anxiety in clinical and analogue populations, one of the major shortcomings in this area has been the lack of conceptual clarity. The present study attempted to elucidate the nature of the prevalent social problem in an investigation of the relation between sensitivity to nonverbal social cues and social anxiety. Twenty-four socially anxious women and 24 socially nonanxious women were selected from undergraduate classes on the basis of their scores on the Social Avoidance and Distress Scale (SAD). Moderately and severely depressed subjects were excluded from the study using the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). Upon their arrival at the laboratory, subjects interacted with a female confederate for 4 minutes. For one half of the interaction, the confederate displayed a relaxed demeanor. During the second interval, the confederate altered her behaviour to portray an anxious state. Subjects were randomly assigned to relaxed-anxious or anxious-relaxed conditions. Following the interaction, subjects rated their level of comfort and that of the confederate. In addition, subjects were asked to describe how the confederate responded to them during their conversation. The subsequent essays were coded by two independent judges. Subjects were also asked directly whether or not they perceived a change in the confederate's behaviour. The interactions were videotaped and each two minute interval was rated by two independent judges along the following dimensions: observation, posturing, gestures, head nods, number of pauses and time spent talking. Judges also rated subjects on global measures of social skill and anxiety. Multivariate analyses of covariance using depression as a covariate were used for data analysis. Based on Crozier's (1979) notion of anxious self-preoccupation it was predicted that socially anxious subjects would be less sensitive to changes in the nonverbal behaviour of the confederate compared to socially nonanxious subjects. Differential sensitivity across groups was not demonstrated. Significant differences between socially anxious and nonanxious subjects were not obtained on subjects' self-reports and only one of six interaction measures differentiated the two groups. Findings were interpretted in light of the methodological limitations of the current study and in the context of the relevant research. The effect of statistically controlling for depression was discussed in relation to ancillary analyses which excluded this covariate. It was suggested that future research control for the potential confounding influence of depression when investigating social anxiety. Furthermore, it was recommended that sensitivity to vocal cues in relation to social anxiety could provide a fruitful avenue for experimental inquiry.

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