Journal article Open Access

Fear of negative and positive evaluation and reactivity to social-evaluative videos in social anxiety disorder

Reichenberger, Julia; Wiggert, Nicole; Wilhelm, Frank H.; Liedlgruber, Michael; Voderholzer, Ulrich; Hillert, Andreas; Timmer, Barbara; Blechert, Jens

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is marked by persistent fear of being scrutinized by others. This and most diagnostic symptoms relate to some form of fear of negative evaluation (FNE). More recent accounts of SAD, such as the Bivalent Fear of Evaluation Model, however, complement FNE with fear of positive evaluation (FPE), described as distress and avoidance of positive feedback. An explicit test of the incremental validity of FPE in discriminating SAD patients from controls – over and on top of the explanatory power of FPE – is currently missing and generally, well controlled laboratory experiments with positive and negative social stimuli in this patient group are rare.

To fill this gap, we exposed 35 patients with SAD and healthy controls (HCs) to short social-evaluative video clips with actors expressing negative and positive as well as neutral statements while recording reactivity on experiential measures (valence, arousal, and approval ratings) as well as on facial electromyography and electrocardiography. In addition, participants completed questionnaire measures of FNE and FPE.

Results revealed that FPE questionnaire scores as well as experiential (valence and appreciation) and electromyographical reactivity measures to positive videos improved prediction of group membership beyond the predictive power of FNE questionnaires scores and reactivity to negative videos.

Results document the importance of FPE to more fully characterize and understand social anxiety and SAD. Implications include amendments to future diagnostic criteria, theoretical models, and treatment approaches for SAD.

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