~ Submissive behaviors in society have an evolutionary significance.
~ Being submissive is a strategy used to limit “ social damages”.

Social anxiety appears to be one such strategy.

~ The more socially anxious a person is, the more socially submissive they behave

Socially anxious individuals fail to behave in a way that could boost their serotonin levels (i.e., calming effects), which non-socially anxious people do by boosting their status.

There is evidence that individuals with a low social status are more vigilant to social threats; they are tense and vulnerable to a variety of disorder, and they engage in submissive behaviors at a much higher frequency than those who are dominant.

From an evolutionary perspective, aggression is not the only determinant for social hierarchy, submissive behaviors are also determining factors . From an evolutionary perspective, behaviors such as gaze-avoidance, fear, grinning, and not confidently making claims on resources or advertising oneself send a “no challenge” signal to the potential attacker, influencing their emotions and behavior and eventually prompting them to limit their attacks.

Thus, subordinate behaviors can be seen as a form of damage-limitation social strategy. We can see traces of those behaviors in self-conscious emotions such as shame, social anxiety, guilt and even shyness. Those emotions have the potential to become pathological under certain conditions, which is suggested by the link between these emotions and depression. For example, the hallmarks of social anxiety are fear of negative evaluation, exposure and social avoidance, which are all forms of social submissiveness. 

Interestingly, it has been argued that the automatic activation of submissive strategies is what is problematic in social anxiety, as the individual is constantly monitoring potential external threats while at the same time monitoring his/her own behavior to prevent causing social damage.  Particularly, there is evidence of a high correlation between social anxiety, especially social interaction anxiety, and submissive behaviors and negative social comparison. Those findings indicate that the more socially anxious a person is the more likely they are to act in a socially submissive manner.

Moreover, research shows that serotonin production (i.e., a mood balance hormone) increases in response to social signals, especially those that are status-boosting; unfortunately socially anxious individuals fail to behave in a way that could boost their social status and elevate their serotonin levels.

Similarly, shame is a painful affect that is often associated with negative self-evaluation (i.e., internal shame) and stigma consciousness and awareness (i.e., external shame). It is noteworthy to add that there is a high correlation between the thoughts related to internal shame and those associated with external shame, which indicates that if a person sees himself/herself as inadequate, he/she expects the others to share the same evaluation of the self.

Yasmina Rebani Lee


Gilbert, P. (2000). The relationship of shame, social anxiety and depression: the role of the evaluation of social rank. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 7, 174-189.


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