Explicit and Implicit Self-Evaluations in Social Anxiety Disorder

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Cognitive models of social anxiety disorder (SAD) emphasize the role of explicit and implicit self-evaluations (SEs) in the etiology and maintenance of this condition. Whereas individuals with SAD consistently report lower explicit SEs as compared with nonanxious individuals, findings concerning implicit SEs are mixed. To gain a more nuanced understanding of the nature of SEs in SAD, we examined explicit and implicit SEs in two significant interpersonal domains: social rank and affiliation. Consistent with cognitive theorizing, we predicted that, compared to nonclinical controls (NCCs), individuals with SAD would exhibit lower explicit and implicit SEs in both domains. Guided by evolutionary theories we also predicted that the differences in SEs between the groups would be greater in the social rank, as compared to the affiliation, domain. Individuals diagnosed with SAD (n = 38) and NCCs)n = 40) performed two variants of the Self Implicit Association Test: one concerning social rank, and the other concerning affiliation. They also rated themselves on social-rank and affiliation traits. We found that, as compared to NCCs, individuals with SAD exhibited lower social-rank and affiliation SEs. Moreover, differences between the groups in social-rank SEs were greater than in affiliation SEs. Importantly, this pattern was evident in implicit SEs, as much as in explicit SEs. Our findings dovetail with evolutionary accounts highlighting the centrality of the social-rank system in SAD, and refine central tenets of cognitive theories of SAD. A multidomain, multimethod approach to the understanding of the self may broaden our conceptualization of SAD and related disorders.

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