In social psychology, a social threat is a cue or a stimulus that is viewed or perceived as a threat to one’s social image. For example, a frown could be perceived as a sign of disapproval or potential rejection.
These signs are interpreted as having a socially catastrophic meaning, and as a a result someone with social anxiety tends to be hypervigilant to them.
Perception myopia is probably the best way to describe how social anxiety affects perception. It expresses the difficulty individuals with social anxiety have with separating their own perception of themselves from that of the others. In other words, they project their own thoughts about themselves onto the others.
Vigilance to cues that signal social exclusion is seen as having the benefits of allowing the person to change how they behave to increase their chances of gaining social acceptance. Alternatively, they could be vigilant toward social threat cues in an effort to rapidly detect signs of negative evaluation. In either case, there is a heightening of attention towards cues signaling social threats, which increases anxiety.
Interestingly, studies find that socially anxious people may vigilantly scan the environment for cues that signal possible social exclusion, but once they experience “social exclusion” they move on to cues signaling social approval, such as a smiley face.
COMMON SOCIAL THREATS IN SOCIAL ANXIETY
UNHAPPY /ANGRY FACES
Socially anxious individuals perceive an unhappy face as a sign of social disapproval.
Disgust faces are particularly alarming in social anxiety, because they interpret them as a sign of rejection.
Neutral faces project ambiguity, which in social anxiety is automatically interpreted in a negative way .
In social anxiety, negative words are processed in their literal meaning, and thus they are particularly sensitive to them.
VISIBLE INNER SENSATIONS
One’s inner sensations becoming visible to others represent a social threat, because of the fear of being rejected or humiliated. For example others seeing that one is blushing or shaking is a source of crippling anxiety
BEING THE CENTER OF ATTENTION
This is a social threat, because it puts the individual in a position of being scrutinized and judged. Those are situations like public speaking or job interviews.