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Psychological factors of social phobia

Several models of social phobia have argued that the central problem in social phobia is the belief by individuals that they cannot measure up to the audiences’ expectations of them. As a result, individuals believe that audiences will evaluate them negatively, despite the fact that people with social phobia do not hold unrealistic expectations for their own performance—nor do they believe that the audiences hold an excessively high standard for them. An important factor in these models is the role of self-focused attention.
People with social phobia pay excessive attention to their own outward appearance (often referred to as public selfconsciousness) and hold negative images of their appearance when in social situations. According to Rapee and Heimberg, a negative mental image is likely to be very important in producing anxiety in social phobics, but is not necessarily veridical. In fact, based on the research described earlier, people with social phobia frequently see themselves as less capable than they are viewed by others. In addition to an attentional focus onto their own appearance, people with social phobia are likely to preferentially allocate attentional resources to external indicators of negative evaluation. In one in vivo study, socially anxious individuals were more accurate at detecting indicators of negative evaluation from their audiences (e.g., frowns) while giving a speech than low anxious subjects. As a result, people with social phobia will attend less to the task at hand, possibly resulting in poorer performance. People with social phobia are likely to hold strong expectations of negative evaluation by others and to interpret ambiguous social information negatively.
In addition, the consequences of negative evaluation by others are seen to be especially dire by people with social phobia. In addition, change in the fear of negative evaluation or in the perceived consequences of negative evaluation is a very strong predictor of treatment response.

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