City Research Online

Social anxiety: prevalence and processes

Brennan, Sheila (2019). Social anxiety: prevalence and processes. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


While there is empirical support for cognitive behavioural models of social anxiety, the attentional processes underlying social anxiety are not clearly understood in part due to the poor ecological validity of studies. There is also a scarcity of research on social anxiety among students. Across three interconnected studies using the same sample, this research examined the prevalence and nature of social anxiety in new undergraduates using a cross-sectional design. Study 1 examined the prevalence and nature of social anxiety and found that new undergraduates experience very high levels of social anxiety, with a third of participants experiencing levels equivalent to a clinical population. In line with the Clark and Wells (1995) cognitive model of social anxiety, the findings also suggest that high levels of social anxiety are associated with frequently occurring and strongly believed negative self-referential cognitions and the frequent use of problematic avoidance and impression-management behaviours. The implications of these findings for students’ engagement in university life are discussed. Study 2 examined the relationship between social anxiety and self-focused attention during a live social interaction using an innovative design involving an eye tracker connected to Skype to measure self-focused attention in a naturalistic setting. A positive correlation was found between social anxiety and fixation time on the live self-image using a Spearman Rho test, rs(58) = .29, p = .02. The implications of this new approach for elucidating the nature of attentional bias in social interactions are examined and possible clinical applications are discussed. Study 3 examined the association between interpretive bias and attentional bias and between interpretive bias and ruminative processes, all processes implicated in the maintenance of social anxiety. A positive association was found between these processes providing support for the cognitive model of social anxiety.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: Doctoral Theses
City, University of London (-2022) > School of Arts & Social Sciences
School of Arts & Social Sciences
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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