The Impact of Social Anxiety on Romantic Relationships: A Risk Regulation Model

Alexander Afram

Major Professor: Todd B. Kashdan, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Patrick McKnight, Anastasia Kitsantas

The Hub (SUB II), #1
June 19, 2012, 12:00 PM to 09:00 AM

Abstract:

Risk regulation is the process by which people draw closer to their partners when they feel valued by them and distance themselves from their partners when they do not. This study proposed that social anxiety amplifies risk regulation: People high in social anxiety strongly desire both the belongingness provided by connecting to their partners and also strongly desire to protect themselves against the potential pain of rejection from romantic partners, prioritizing the latter. To test this model, 51 couples were brought into our laboratory and split up. One member was assigned to a rejection condition in which they were induced to believe that their partner was listing an excessive number of negative characteristics about them, while the other was assigned to a non-rejection condition in which they received an innocuous filler task during the induction phase of the study. Amongst the participants in the rejection condition, social anxiety showed a unique positive association with concern over partners listing negative characteristics, while controlling for related constructs. Across all participants, social anxiety showed a unique positive association with the need to belong, while controlling for related constructs. Consistent with the proposed model, social anxiety interacted significantly with experimental condition: People high in social anxiety who received the rejection induction rated their partners significantly more negatively after the induction, while people high in social anxiety who received the innocuous induction rated their partners significantly more positively after the induction. Implications of our findings for the romantic relationships of people high in social anxiety are discussed.