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See also: Social Phobia

Social anxiety is a term used to describe an experience of anxiety (emotional discomfort, fear, apprehension or worry) regarding social situations and being evaluated by other people. It occurs early in childhood as a normal part of social functioning. People vary in how often they experience social anxiety or in which kinds of situations. It can be related to shyness or other emotional or temperamental factors, but its exact nature is still the subject of research and theory. Extreme social anxiety can be disabling and may be clinically diagnosed as social anxiety disorder or social phobia.

Some use the terms "social anxiety" and "social phobia" interchangeably.[1][2]

Nature of social anxiety

The experience is commonly described as having physiological components (e.g., sweating, blushing), cognitive/perceptual components (e.g. belief that one may be judged negatively; looking for signs of disapproval) and behavioral components (e.g. avoiding a situation).

Social anxieties may also be classified according to the broadness of triggering social situations. For example, fear of eating in public has a very narrow situational scope (eating in public), while shyness may have a wide scope (a person may be shy of doing many things in various circumstances).[3] Different terms may be used for specific social anxieties - for example performance anxiety, public speaking anxiety or stage fright. Anxiety about public speaking or interviews is common, as is shyness.[4][unreliable source?]

The essence of social anxiety has been said to be an expectation of negative evaluation by others.[3] One theory is that social anxiety occurs when there is motivation to make a desired impression along with doubt about having the ability to do so.[5]

Child Development

Social anxiety first occurs in infancy and is said to be a normal and necessary emotion for effective social functioning and developmental growth. Cognitive advances and increased pressures in late childhood and early adolescence result in social anxiety being experienced repeatedly. Adolescents have identified their most common anxieties as focused on relationships with peers of the opposite sex, peer rejection, public speaking, blushing, self-consciousness, and past behaviour. Most adolescents progress through their fears and meet the developmental demands placed on them.[6]

Related experiences

Social anxiety may be referred to as shyness or timidness. The term is also commonly used in reference to experiences such as embarrassment and shame. However some psychologists draw a line among various types of social discomfort, with the criterion for anxiety being an anticipation. For example, the anticipation of an embarrassment is a form of social anxiety, while embarrassment itself is not.[7]


Main article: social anxiety disorder

Extreme, persistent and disabling social anxiety may be diagnosed as social anxiety disorder (social phobia). Criteria in the DSM and ICD attempt to distinguish clinical versus nonclinical forms of social anxiety, including by intensity and levels of behavioral and psychosomatic disruption. [3] The clinical forms may also be distinguished into the general social phobia and specific social phobias.

Although the "official" clinical name for the disorder, as listed in the DSM and ICD, is Social Phobia or Social Anxiety Disorder, support groups for people who have the disorder (whether through clinical diagnosis or self-diagnosis) often refer to it as simply "social anxiety" or even "SA".[1] [2]

The validity of the disorder diagnosis has been challenged, both on scientific and political grounds. Many people satisfying DSM social phobia criteria may simply be temperamentally high in social anxiety rather than suffering from a disorder, although such problems in living in society may still deserve attention as a matter of social justice.[8]

Clinicians and researchers continue to struggle with definitional problems regarding the constructs of shyness, social anxiety and social phobia (social anxiety disorder). Each shares similarities, yet each has been used to define distinct aspects of psychological life as it relates to interpersonal functioning.[9]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Social Anxiety Support, What is Social Anxiety? 2007.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Thomas A. Richards, Ph.D., Director, Social Anxiety Institute, Why We Prefer the Term Social Anxiety to Social Phobia 2003.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Harold Leitenberg (1990) "Handbook of Social and Evaluation Anxiety", ISBN 0306434385
  4. SAF Articles, Prevalence of public-speaking anxiety 1996.
  5. Leary, M. (2001). Social Anxiety as an Early Warning System: A Refinement and Extension of the Self-Presentation Theory of Social Anxiety. In Hofmann, S.G. and DiBartolo, P.M. (eds). From social anxiety to social phobic: multiple perspectives. Allyn & Bacon.
  6. Albano, A.M. & Detweiler, M.F. (2001) The Developmental and Clinical Impract of Social Anxiety and Social Phobia in Children and Adolescents. In Hofmann, S.G. and DiBartolo, P.M. (eds). From Social Anxiety to Social Phobia: Multiple Perspectives. Allyn & Bacon.
  7. W. Ray Crozier (1990) "Shyness and Embarrassment: Perspectives from Social Psychology", ISBN 052135529X, p. 62
  8. Wakefield, J.C., Horwitz, A.V., Schmitz, M.F. (2004) Are We Overpathologizing the Socially Anxious? Social Phobia From a Harmful Dysfunction Perspective. Can J Psychiatry 49:736-742.
  9. Henderson, L., Zimbardo, P. (2001). Shyness, Social Anxiety, Social Phobia. In Hofmann, S.G. and DiBartolo, P.M. (eds). From Social Anxiety to Social Phobia: Multiple Perspectives. Allyn & Bacon.