The Face of Social Anxiety: Perception and Reality
People with social anxiety interpret the world around them
differently. In a study to be published in the January 2008 issue of
the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, people with anxiety were found
to have a stronger response to fear. The study was based on the
response to subliminal (brief) exposure to happy and fearful faces and
then to surprised faces for a longer period of time. The volunteers in
the study with higher levels of social anxiety were more likely to
rate the surprised face as frightened than did individuals with lower
levels of social anxiety. Dr. Wen Li, the lead author of the study at
Northwestern University, commented that "the evaluation of ambiguous
cues as negative is the very hallmark symptom of social anxiety." Dr.
Li further described the group with high social anxiety as
hypervigilant and hypersensistive. Their readiness to perceive stimuli
as causing fear may, in fact, produce more anxiety.
This study will help define new treatment for the incapacitating
aspects of social anxiety. People can learn to retrain themselves to
emphasize the positive and exert control over their negative
responses. Our interactions with others, as we learn from studies
like this, is truly based upon perception creating reality.