Self-images play a causal role in social phobia.
Hirsch CR., Clark DM., Mathews A., Williams R.
Patients with social phobia often experience negative self-images in social situations. The current study investigated whether negative self-images have a causal role in maintaining social phobia. Patients with social phobia participated twice in a conversation with a stranger, once whilst holding their usual negative self-image in mind and once whilst holding a less negative (control) self-image in mind, with order counterbalanced across participants. Compared to the control image condition, when participants held the negative image in mind they experienced greater anxiety, rated their anxiety symptoms as being more visible, and rated their performance as poorer. An assessor who did not know which image was being held also rated participants' anxiety as more evident and their behaviour as less positive when the negative image was being held in mind. Finally, when participant and assessor ratings were compared, participants underestimated their performance and overestimated the visibility of their anxiety to a significantly greater extent in the negative imagery condition. Taken together, these results support the hypothesis that negative self-imagery has a causal role in maintaining social phobia.