Loyola University Maryland

Emerging Scholars

Laura Kort, Rachel L. Grover, Ph.D.

The Relation Between Social Anxiety and Social Problem Solving in Emerging Adults and the Potential Moderating Role of Gender

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Social anxiety symptoms are characterized by the fear of acting in an embarrassing or humiliating way and being scrutinized by others, as well as avoiding social situations because of this fear. Most individuals experience occasional symptoms of social anxiety. High levels of social anxiety are associated with negative consequences (Purdon, Antony, Monteiro, & Swinson, 2001) and young adults may be more susceptible to anxiety due to a period marked by overall instability and ambiguity called emerging adulthood (Arnett, 2007). Emerging adulthood takes place from the late teens to mid-twenties and involves exploration, role experimentation, and instability in the areas of love, work, or worldviews (Arnett, 2000). The presence of social anxiety could disrupt many of the developmental tasks of emerging adulthood, such as the development of intimate relationships (Sparrevohn & Rapee, 2009; Spokas, Luterek, & Heimberg, 2009) and occupational functioning (Robin, 2006).

In addition to the possible negative consequences of social anxiety for emerging adults, social anxiety symptoms are also associated with cognitive processing deficits, such as attentional biases toward threat, negative self-statements, and a focus on the self while potentially disregarding external social cues (Mesa, Nieves, & Beidel, 2011; Rego, Muller, & Sanderson, 2009). These cognitive deficits likely lead to problems with social problem solving skills, or the ability to solve problems that occur in everyday life (D’Zurilla, Nezu, & Maydeu-Olivares, 2001). Although social problem solving ability has been shown to be related to anxiety in general, there is a paucity of research on the relation between social anxiety symptoms and social problem solving skills. In addition, the majority of research on social problem solving utilizes broad, self-report measures of general problem solving appraisal instead of actual problem solving skills.

The proposed study aims to better establish and understand the relation between real- world social problem solving skills and social anxiety symptoms in emerging adulthood. A diary-based assessment of real-world problem solving style and effectiveness, called the Problem Solving Self-Monitoring (PSSM) form (Brothers, Ford, & Nangle, 2016) will be used. The Social Anxiety Scale for Adolescents (SAS-A) will also be used to measure social anxiety symptoms. Since emerging adulthood is focused on ages 18-25 (Arnett, 2000), the proposed sample will be three hundred undergraduate students ranging in age from 18-25. In addition, gender will be investigated in an exploratory analysis as a possible moderator of this relation. Since there is evidence that anxiety disorders may manifest and present differently across gender (Bekker & Van Mens-Verhulst, 2007; Donner & Lowry, 2013; Pesce, van Veen, & van Norwood, 2016), it may be necessary to examine gender as a moderator between social problem solving skills and social anxiety symptoms. A demographic form will be used to measure age and gender. If social problem solving skills are related to social anxiety symptoms for emerging adults, and the relation is stronger for women than for men, research examining the relation could better inform prevention and treatment initiatives.