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Study: Social Anxiety Doesn’t Hurt Friendships

Ian Smith
People with social anxiety disorder overestimate how bad their relationship with their friends are.

A new study suggests that people with social anxiety disorder do not come across as bad as they think in their friendships. The research was conducted at Washington University in St. Louis.

Social anxiety is experienced by many people from time to time but social anxiety disorder is diagnosed when people experience enough social anxiety that it interferes with their everyday lives and prevent them to do specific things, like conducting presentations at work for example.

The study focused on the issue of friendship quality for people with social anxiety disorder. Study co-author Thomas Rodebaugh explained that people with this disorder often say that they have fewer friends and that the friendships that they have are not very satisfying. He said the research tried to see if that was true when it came to a specific friendship and what their friend had to say about it.

“In general, people with social anxiety disorder tend to think that they come across worse than they actually do in lots of different situations,” Rodebaugh said.

Among the study participants, 77 were diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and 63 were not. Each participant brought with them a friend to take part of the testing. They all filled out psychological tests designed to assess friendship quality.

“We found a number of different things,” Rodebaugh said.

People with the disorder reported being less happy with the specific friendship than people without the disorder. Their friends did not seem to feel that way and if they essentially noticed something was different with the friendship, it did not have an impact on how happy they were with the friendship.

People with social anxiety disorder overestimate how bad their relationship with their friends are.

“We don’t completely understand what it is that leads them to do this, and that’s something that we are trying to figure out,” Rodebaugh said.

He said there are many treatments for social anxiety disorder. Part of it consists of making people realize that they come across a lot better than they think they are. Rodebaugh said the findings of this research could add to this reassuring message by showing that it applies to friendships.

“They may think that they are on shaky grounds with their friends but it may be that in fact their friends like them quite a bit and they are underestimating how much they are liked by their friends,” he said.

Rodebaugh said that to improve this study, researchers would need to be able to do more measurements over time in order to understand how one thing leads to another.

Marine Perot was a KRCU reporter for KRCU in 2014.