Distinguishing healthy adults from people with social anxiety disorder: evidence for the value of experiential avoidance and positive emotions in everyday social interactions.J Abnorm Psychol. 2013 Aug; 122(3):645-55.JA
Despite the increased attention that researchers have paid to social anxiety disorder (SAD), compared with other anxiety and mood disorders, relatively little is known about the emotional and social factors that distinguish individuals who meet diagnostic criteria from those who do not. In this study, participants with and without a diagnosis of SAD (generalized subtype) described their daily face-to-face social interactions for 2 weeks using handheld computers. We hypothesized that, compared with healthy controls, individuals diagnosed with SAD would experience fewer positive emotions, rely more on experiential avoidance (of anxiety), and have greater self-control depletion (feeling mentally and physically exhausted after socializing), after accounting for social anxiety, negative emotions, and feelings of belonging during social interactions. We found that compared with healthy controls, individuals with SAD experienced weaker positive emotions and greater experiential avoidance, but there were no differences in self-control depletion between groups. Moreover, the differences we found could not be attributed to comorbid anxiety or depressive disorders. Our results suggest that negative emotions alone do not fully distinguish normal from pathological social anxiety, and that assessing social anxiety disorder should include impairments in positive emotional experiences and dysfunctional emotion regulation (in the form of experiential avoidance) in social situations.