Training Implicit Social Anxiety Association: An Experimental Intervention

Clerkin, Elise Marie, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Teachman, Bethany, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Llewellyn, Lee, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

The current study investigated an experimental anxiety reduction intervention among a highly socially anxious, clinical analogue population. Using a conditioning training paradigm, our goal was to modify implicit social anxiety associations, which may reflect elements of anxious schemas. By doing so, we sought to directly test cognitive models which posit that biased cognitive processing may be causally related to anxious responding and other forms of cognitive biases (e.g., selective attention to threatening stimuli). Specifically, participants were trained to preferentially process non - threatening information through repeated pairings of self - relevant stimuli and faces indicating positive social feedback. As predicted, participants in this positive training condition (relative to two control conditions) displayed less implicit rejection associations following training, and they were more likely to complete an impromptu speech. There was also a non trend for participants in the positive condition (compared to the control conditions) to speak for longer during the public speaking task. Finally, as predicted, post - training implicit rejection associations were significantly related to subsequent emotional vulnerability to a social anxiety stressor (when collapsing across condition). Contrary to hypotheses, however, there was no significant effect of training on anxiety or perceptions of public speaking performance. There was also no effect of training on either biased attention or interpretations. Together, these findings offer partial support for cognitive models and indicate that implicit associations are not only correlated with social anxiety, they may be causally related as well.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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