research articles

The role of dispositional reinforcement sensitivity and self-esteem in social interaction anxiety and social phobia




personality, social anxiety, reinforcement sensitivity, self-esteem


Social anxiety is related to normal variation in personality and manifests as anxiety concerning interactions with others (social interaction anxiety), and/or as a fear of social scrutiny whilst performing tasks when under observation from others (social phobia). In revised Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory (rRST) a behavioral inhibition system (BIS) facilitates defensive approach behaviors and anxiety in situations of uncertainty. A fight-flight-freeze system (FFFS) facilitates fear and avoidance behaviors, and a behavioral approach system (BAS) facilitates anticipated reward and/or approach-based behaviors. rRST suggests that a socially anxious phenotype would experience elevated BIS sensitivity, elevated FFFS sensitivity, and dampened BAS sensitivity. We used self-report measures to test if the effects of social interaction anxiety and social phobia (which reflects the fear of social scrutiny) are separable within rRST, as in rRST anxiety and fear are separate constructs. Low levels of self-esteem are a risk factor for social anxiety, thus we tested how two sub-components of self-esteem referred to as self-acceptance and self-assessment predict social interaction anxiety and social phobia. 405 participants (mean age = 30.6; 86% female) completed the online study. Social interaction anxiety and social phobia were positively correlated with BIS and FFFS-flight sensitivity, and were negatively correlated with BAS, and FFFS-fight sensitivity in males and females. Social interaction anxiety and social phobia were negatively correlated with self-acceptance in males and females. Multiple regression showed that for females BIS and FFFS-flight scores were prominent positive predictors of social interaction anxiety whereas BIS was a prominent positive predictor of social phobia. For males the FFFS-fight subscale was a prominent negative predictor of social interaction anxiety. Overall, a synthesis of the present study and previous studies suggests that there may be subtle differences in how trait social interaction anxiety and trait social phobia relate to reinforcement sensitivity.





research articles