SPOILER ALERT! ~ Social anxiety is associated with low academic scores and achievement ~ Reading fluency is not affected by social anxiety ~ Reading comprehension is affected by social anxiety ~ Intrusive thoughts and worry in social anxiety is believed to affect memory functions ~ Reading fluency becomes automatic in older children, but reading comprehension continuously relies on memory retrieval (for words) and working memory. ~ High social anxiety is associated with low scores in reading comprehension. ~ High social anxiety children do worst on reading comprehension than those with low social anxiety Check if your child might have some social anxiety below
Research shows that social anxiety is a common anxiety disorder among children and adolescents. It typically manifests as a fear of being laughed at or ridiculed by the others in situations where the individual is being evaluated. Due to the weight that evaluation carries in social anxiety, investigating this disorder in academic and school-related contexts is particularly meaningful.
Social Anxiety at School
There is growing evidence showing that anxiety is linked to negative effects on school performance and achievement. For example, one study reports that as anxiety increases academic achievement decreases. Likewise, another study further strengthens those results by adding that this is true even when all the children have the same intelligence level.
Conversely, when children with social anxiety receive negative evaluations on their academic achievement, it further strengthens their negative self-perception and wind up magnifying their social anxiety.
Reading Fluency and Reading Comprehension
The Processing Efficiency Theory (PEP) has been put forth as an attempt to clarify the relationship between anxiety and academic performance. PEP sees worrisome thoughts as disruptive to the proper functioning of memory by taking away cognitive resources (e.g., concentration) that would normally be allocated to the academic task.
Reading comprehension, for instance, is one such academic task that relies heavily on memory. Achieving this skill implicates that the child has mastered reading fluency since it involves word recognition; as word recognition improves, there is more cognitive resources available to improve reading comprehension.
Although reading fluency and reading comprehension are reciprocally related, the former (i.e., reading fluency) becomes automatic among older students, while the latter (i.e., reading comprehension) relies on repeated retrieval from long-term memory and the use of working memory. Thus, reading comprehension requires significant cognitive resources.
Social Anxiety and Children’s Reading Comprehension
Published research consistently reports that anxiety interferes with reading comprehension and other difficult cognitive tasks. For example, one study found that participants with high anxiety did poorly on a reading comprehension task involving a foreign language because they were often distracted by intrusive thoughts.
Similarly, the current study found that as children’s social anxiety increases, their scores on reading comprehension decrease. This relationship did not exist for reading fluency, which further supports the notion that this task becomes automatic and thus requires less cognitive resources.
In addition, these results were further mediated by the level of anxiety, which means that reading comprehension scores were lower among the children with high anxiety than among those with low anxiety levels.
These results have practical application, especially in the classroom, as it highlights the importance of assessing a child’s social anxiety level and adjusting evaluations and assessments accordingly. For example, oral assessments of a child with social anxiety could reflect their level of anxiety rather than their true academic potential.
Tysinger, Jeffrey & Tysinger, Dawn & Diamanduros, Terry. (2010). The Effect of Anxiety on the Measurement of Reading Fluency and Comprehension:. Georgia Educational Researcher. 8. 10.20429/ger.2010.080102.