IS SOCIAL ANXIETY CONTAGIOUS?

SPOILER ALERT!
~ Socially anxious (SA) individuals employ strategies to help them relieve their anxiety such as saying a few words or avoiding eye contact.

~ Those strategies make the SA individual less socially attractive and more likely to be rejected.

~ SA individuals can transfer their self-deprecating thoughts and negative feelings onto the person interacting with them.

~ Individuals with low SA tend to “catch” the anxiety symptoms that a person with high SA is displaying during an interaction.

Research shows that social anxiety can lead to loneliness and depression, but what is less known is that it can also have a negative impact on the people who interact with someone with that affliction.

Typically, socially anxious individuals employ self-protective strategies” in their social encounters to avoid disapproval. With that goal in mind, they tend to self-disclose less that the situation warrants, give laconic replies, and hardly ever initiate conversations. However, studies show that these protective measures could potentially backfire and invite criticisms and rejection from the others.

More interestingly, it is even suggested that the characteristic negative and self-deprecating thoughts/feelings of socially anxious individuals could be contagious. Notably, there is evidence that the more timid the men are, the more they and their female partners report having negative, self-focused thoughts and feelings during their interaction. These results indicate that both partners wound up turning their attention inward instead of focusing on the other.

Similarly, another study reports that when individuals low in social anxiety interact with partners high in social anxiety they tend to display similar non-verbal behaviors suggestive of anxiety, such as fidgeting and distancing oneself. In addition, lack of eye contact and ‘polite smiles” (i.e., a polite smile does not involve movements of the eye as with a pleasant smile), which communicate distrust and discomfort, further strengthen the fear of negative evaluation and rejection in the non-/low- socially anxious partner. As a result, the interactions are curt and awkward, which in turn further reinforces the socially anxious individual’s beliefs that they are socially inadequate and that they have been rejected.

Reference:

Park, Anna & Sharp, Niamh & Ickes, William. “Social anxiety is contagious”. Social anxiety: Symptoms, causes, and techniques, edited by T.M. Robinson, Nova Science Publishers, 2010, pp.79-91.

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