In patients with social anxiety disorder, day-to-day social interactions may be impaired by self-protective strategies. A new study suggests such coping strategies may hinder nonverbal synchrony, increasing the risk of depicting one’s own interactions with negative expectations, eventually leading to instances of social rejection.
The use of self-protective strategies, which can implicate any form of responsive body language, is often manifested as a result of fear in exposing one’s perceived flawed self to reduce the possibility of negative evaluation.
In the study, published in Clinical Psychological Science, researchers studied the connection between social anxiety disorder and nonverbal synchrony. More than 150 Israeli participants took part in the study, with only 38 of them diagnosed with the condition by an experienced clinican.
Upon recruitment, each participant answered a series of questions based on a 30-minute conversation with the interviewee. Their conversations were either generalized topics of discussion or more personalized, closeness-generating topics.
“We examined nonverbal synchrony during opposite-sex interactions of individuals with social anxiety disorder. Participants were 156 individuals: 38 diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and 118 individuals who were not socially anxious,” according to the findings.
The participants were also instructed to self-report the severity of anxious symptoms, if any, preceding the conversation. The interactions in the interviews, including body movements, were then examined and compared using motion-energy analysis.
Generally, individuals with social anxiety disorder tend to control their body language, in addition to eye contact, to hide physiological signs of stress.
From inputing the data of the interviews and self-reported responses into two model types, one classifying the condition as a binary state, and the other in which computed a persistent measure of social anxiety of each participants based on severity of symptoms, the following was established.
The findings determined that the participants with social anxiety were more vigilant of the closeness-generation conversations, prompting the initiation of protective strategies, thus inhibiting nonverbal synchrony.
During small conversations generating minimal anxiety, individuals with the condition may try and compensate for their perceived social ineptitude by increasing nonverbal synchrony, researchers suggested.
“High levels of anxiety may be overwhelming and leave few resources for communication, which results in undersynchronization or underdisclosure,” the study’s co-authors concluded.
“We found evidence for impaired nonverbal synchrony in social anxiety disorder using objective measures. Implications for psychopathology and treatment are discussed.”