A new study found that people who are suffering from social anxiety have higher chances of internalizing criticism than people without the disorder. The research from the University of Colorado Boulder suggested that healthy adults internalize positive feedback, while people with SAD have a negative bias.
Leonie Koban, a research associate at the University’s Institute of Cognitive Science, said people with SAD digest negative feedback more than positive feedback. She added that a lot of what people think or feel is heavily influenced by social context.
In the US, there are an estimated 40 million American adults who live with SAD, Bustle noted. That makes social anxiety as the most common mental health disorder in the US, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Almost 6.8 percent of the US population, or about 15 million American adults, are dealing with SAD. Globally, 1 in 13 people has social anxiety disorder. These are the people who may find attending social events and gatherings as challenging.
Koban noted that people with SAD fear social interaction, ranging from public speaking to smaller social interactions such as parties. It is because they tend to have low self-esteem and low self-compassion. In other words, they are not kind to themselves.
For the study that Koban conducted, she got 56 adults as volunteers, 21 of whom were SAD patients. They were made to give a brief speech to a panel of judges and each person received feedback on the speech and completed a self-evaluation.
The findings supported Koban’s hypothesis that adults with SAD would update their self-directed feelings and self-perception to a greater extent in response to negative than to positive performance feedback. In contrast, healthy adults would show the opposite updating bias.
Learning from feedback
She said that while people with SAD can learn from feedback and build their self-esteem, negative feedback harms their image of self far more drastically. Koban, a psychologist who got her PhD in neurosciences at the University of Geneva, said that future research could determine if the negative bias is an effect only of social anxiety disorder.
She suggested that people with other forms of anxiety might also yield similar results. Koban acknowledged that the team has yet to fully study ways or reversing negative bias. They need to work on self-compassion interventions, although the researchers have yet to analyze the data.
Koban stressed that social interactions have a strong effect on human behavior, but there is no understanding of the brain science behind it. Her study focused on examining the physiological mechanism that influences the way humans make decisions.
Bustle noted that navigating SAD is tricky because, most of the time, people cannot straight up or leave the situation. But it is important to set boundaries for oneself and be aware of when it's time to leave.
Among the ways that people with SAD cope include distracting themselves by lightly snapping a rubber band on the wrist when in a social situation, shared Colin, a youth coordinator. Aneliese, a college student, uses her phone a lot by mindlessly scrolling through social media. Heidi, a consultant in Utah, uses the power of the smile.
Alternatively, one can take a bathroom break to splash water on the face or do breathing exercises. Others find an animal or bring along a service animal or a trusted friend. Another technique is to visualize a safe space or to practice breathing techniques.
Carrying a fidget toy also helps as well as focusing on the person you are with, and playing comforting music. Other techniques that work as well include utilizing touch such as running the fingernails along the fingers or lips, setting boundaries for yourself in advance, using soothing beauty products, reminding yourself why you attended in the first place, and trying to get into the conversation.
Shyness can be debilitating
Jacqueline Hurst, an advice columnist at GQ, in response to a letter-writer who admitted suffering from SAD, pointed out that shyness can be truly debilitating. She noted that for most people, it is a learned behavior such as when their parents lack confidence or they are naturally unsociable.
She said that it is quite ironic that in today’s modern world, with so many technological means of interaction such as email and text, it is still easy for people to become isolated. Hurst observed that there is greater social introversion, less personal connection and face-to-face conversation, and people avoid the awkward, unfamiliar, and spontaneous interactions which make the situation worse.
Hurst noted that people often isolate themselves because of the thoughts in their mind. They “catastrophize” situations and imagine being rejected or humiliated when talking to people. Some imagine themselves standing in a corner all alone and seeing people whispering about them. Thinking of these scenarios makes them feel terrified and prefer to avoid the outside world instead of leaving the safety of home.
[researchpaper 리서치페이퍼= Vittorio Hernandez 기자]