Socially Anxious

A Guide to Self-Referent Constructs for the Socially Anxious

socially anxious

Author: Sarah D. Sokora
Date: October 15, 2014


Previous studies have identified predominantly negative relationships between social anxiety and various self-referent constructs such as self-esteem, self-efficacy, and social self-efficacy (Cieslak, Benight, & Lehman, 2008; Muris, 2002; Rudy, Davis III, & Matthews, 2012). However, some studies found contrary results, and most were not focused on these specific relationships, referred to them only in passing, or did not include all of these self-referent constructs. In order to flesh out these relationships and reinforce the correlations found in the literature, I administered a survey combining measures of these four constructs. A total of 76 undergraduates at the University of Dallas completed a 20-item Likert-type survey which combined adapted items from Rosenberg's Self-Esteem Scale (RSE), the General Self-Efficacy Scale (GSE), the Mini Social Phobia Inventory (M-SPIN), and the Social Self-Efficacy Scale. The survey also included age and sex measures. The self-referent measures self-esteem, self- efficacy and social self-efficacy were all positively, moderately correlated. Each of these measures was then negatively correlated with social anxiety. A multiple regression of the self- referent measures explained 32.8% of the variance in social anxiety, with social self-efficacy being the only significant predictor and accounting for most of the variance. Men were also found to be significantly more socially anxious than women. These results are discussed in light of the literature reviewed and limitations and directions for future research are also discussed.

Keywords: social anxiety, self-esteem, self-efficacy, social self-efficacy, college students.

A Guide to Self-Referent Constructs for the Socially Anxious

This paper will first address the reviewed literature on self-esteem, self-efficacy, social self-efficacy and social anxiety as well as the relationships between these constructs. Next, the hypotheses and method for the present study will be explained. The statistical results will then be presented, followed by a discussion of these results in light of the literature reviewed. References and appendices will follow, the latter containing the administered survey and visual representations of the results.

Literature Review

The reviewed literature will be presented by construct, with the first studies on self- esteem, then those on self-efficacy and social self-efficacy, and ending with those on social anxiety. The relationships between these constructs will then be discussed, especially regarding the first three constructs as interrelated self-referent variables as opposed to social anxiety, with which they have a consistently negative relationship. The present study will then be described and the hypotheses presented.


The revised edition of Rosenberg's 1965 seminal work on self-esteem defines it as "a positive or negative attitude toward a particular object, namely, the self," in the form of either "self-acceptance" or "self-dissatisfaction" (Rosenberg, 1989, pp. 30-31). In the reviewed literature, this measure of self-worth is dependent upon self-appraisals and social evaluations by others, and people tend to work towards raising or maintaining their self-esteem (Anthony, Holmes, & Wood, 2007; Anthony, Wood, & Holmes, 2007; Brown, Dutton, & Cook, 2001; Srivastava & Beer, 2005). Brown et al. (2001) concluded that high self-esteem (HSEst) individuals use self-evaluations to maintain their self-esteem, claiming to possess traits labeled as positive while avoiding negative ones. This denial of negative traits is significantly greater after HSEst individuals fail on another trait-related task, indicating the manipulation of self- evaluations to protect their HSEst. Leary's sociometer theory builds upon such results, stating that self-esteem is a "barometer of one's perceived past, present, and future relational value" (Anthony, Wood, et al., 2007, p. 425). Examining the interpersonal sphere, Srivastava and Beer (2005) found that being positively evaluated by others raised participants' self-esteem scores, while being evaluated negatively lowered self-esteem scores, supporting the sociometer's place as a measure of social value. Anthony, Wood, et al. (2007) likewise found that when individuals with low self-esteem (LSEst) did not receive feedback prior to joining a group, they did not want to join. However, when the LSEst group received feedback that made acceptance in the group seem likely, they were more willing to join; the HSEst group did not differ between conditions. Supporting the sociometer theory, LSEst individuals, who perceive themselves as having low relational value, are reticent to join an ambiguous group, but eager to join when acceptance seems likely, raising their relational value. With regard to relationally-valued traits, Anthony, Holmes, et al. (2007) discovered that self-esteem and acceptance had a higher correlation with social commodities such as attractiveness and popularity than with communal qualities such as kindness and warmth.


In his seminal work, Bandura defines self-efficacy (SEff) as "what you believe you can do with what you have under a variety of circumstances" (Bandura, 1997, p. 37; see also Cieslak, Benight, & Lehman, 2008; Erozkan, 2013; Hoyt, 2013; Matsushima & Shiomi, 2003; Muris, 2002; Rudy, Davis, & Matthews, 2012).

Current research in self-efficacy. Matsushima and Shiomi (2003) determined that participants with high levels of stress coping skill who lacked high SEff still experienced high levels of stress; success is dependent upon both the skill itself and belief in one's ability. Additionally, Cieslak et al. (2008) found that coping SEff was negatively predicted by high levels of negative cognitions about the self and the world, and mediated the relationship between these cognitions and post-traumatic stress, such that when coping SEff was controlled for, the relationship between these cognitions and post-traumatic stress was no longer significant. In addition, Muris (2002) found that females had lower SEff overall, although Rudy et al. (2012) determined that females had higher global SEff than males. Hoyt (2013) demonstrated that whether a leader is seen as inspiring or deflating is predicted by the subject's SEff; subjects with high SEff identified more with the leader overall, while those with low SEff were more inspired by the non-elite role model. These results emphasize social comparison processes, in which an individual compares him or herself to another and finds him or herself either greater (downward) or lesser (upward) than the other on some measure.

Social self-efficacy. These comparison processes become particularly important in social self-efficacy (SSEff); Bandura (1997) states that self-efficacy is not only a single omnibus trait, but is also specific to certain domains, such as the interpersonal interface. These specific measures of SEff are often more predictive than a general measure in these areas. Erozkan (2013) found that SSEff is negatively related to a lack of self-confidence, but is predicted by communication skills and interpersonal problem-solving, echoing Matsushima and Shiomi's (2003) correlation between SSEff and interpersonal stress. Rudy et al. (2012) discovered that more negative self-statements were associated with higher social anxiety and low general SEff, and that these latter two constructs were negatively associated as well. However, SSEff and social anxiety were not significantly related.

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety (SA) is the enduring fear of social situations due to possible judgment by others (Antony, Rowa, Liss, Swallow, & Swinson, 2005; Ashbaugh, Antony, McCabe, Schmidt, & Swinson, 2005; Bielak & Moscovitch, 2013; Catalino, Furr, & Bellis, 2012; DiTommaso, Brannen-McNulty, Ross, & Burgess, 2003; Hannesdttir & Ollendick, 2007; Hertel, Brozovich, Joormann, & Gotlib, 2008; Kachin, Newman, & Pincus, 2001; Moscovitch et al., 2013; Purdon, Antony, Monteiro, & Swinson, 2001; Wilson & Rapee, 2006). Those diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD; or Social Phobia [SP] pre-DSM V) have a lasting higher frequency of symptom presentation that is "out of proportion . . . to the actual situation;" other clinical diagnoses include Generalized Social Anxiety (GSA) and Non-generalized Social Anxiety (NSA) ("Social anxiety disorder," 2013). Kachin et al. (2001) found in a one-way ANOVA that there was a significant difference between those diagnosed with GSA versus NSA on interpersonal distress, while Purdon et al. (2001) discovered that the normal population experiences symptoms of SA as well, such as sweating, situation avoidance, and blushing, but at lower frequencies than the clinical population (Bielak & Moscovitch, 2013). Studies are therefore divided between those that test clinical populations (SAD, SP), and those that take the top 15 to 25% of scorers on a SA measure as a non-clinical high SA group (HSA); in combining these methods, they indicate a variability in SA throughout the general population.

The focus on self and other evaluations. Socially anxious individuals are not differentiable merely by their anxiety, but also exhibit a preoccupation with self and other evaluations of their person (Bielak & Moscovitch, 2013; Catalino et al., 2012; Wilson & Rapee, 2006). Wilson and Rapee (2006) found that individuals with SP gave significantly higher self- ratings on negative characteristics, and significantly lower ratings on positive ones; likewise, SA was a positive predictor of confidence in negative, but not positive, descriptions. Moscovitch et al. (2013) discovered that when individuals were anxious in a social setting, they feared others evaluating them negatively based on traits that they had negatively self-evaluated, namely social competence, signs of anxiety or physical appearance. Their final finding was that subjects with SAD had higher overall self-portrayal concerns, despite comorbidity. Bielak and Moscovitch (2013) corroborate these results, finding that the HSA group feared criticism by an imagined social partner significantly more than the low SA (LSA) group. Catalino et al. (2012) discovered that SA was positively correlated with impression motivation, but negatively correlated with impression efficacy. Further, as one's impression efficacy increased, the relationship between the desire to make a good impression and the level of SA experienced weakened.

Comparison processes and social skills. Antony et al. (2005) rooted the maintenance of SA in upward comparison processes (see also Hoyt, 2013). Participants with SP engaged in more multi-dimensional upwards comparisons than the non-clinical group, especially on social skills, personality, and signs of anxiety, maintaining their own SP (Antony et al., 2005). Several studies assessed whether these comparisons were due to higher social self-standards for individuals with HSA: Ashbaugh et al. (2005) found that while the HSA group did perform more poorly while giving a speech, when observer ratings were controlled for, the HSA group still rated themselves lower than the LSA group on performance, anxiety, and presenter impression, suggesting that those with HSA have a higher standard of excellence for themselves. DiTomasso et al. (2003) echoed these results, finding a weak negative correlation between social skills and loneliness. When participants with HSA evaluate others, Bielak and Moscovitch (2013) found that they did not rate anxious interaction partners lower than the control group did, but rated confident partners much higher than did the controls, exhibiting a "halo effect." Purdon et al. (2001), however, discovered that those with HSA judged individuals displaying anxiety more harshly (less attractive, less strength of character), but thought that they were more compassionate, perhaps because they could identify with their anxiety. To conclude, Hertel et al. (2008) determined that those with SP made a larger number of negative memory errors when asked to repeat a pre-determined social situation, hinting at a more negative overall view of social situations in general.

Relationships with above stated constructs. Srivastava and Beer (2005) determined that those with high attachment anxiety (similar to HSA) are more affected in their self- evaluations by others' evaluations than those with low anxiety. Similarly, Muris (2002) discovered a moderate negative correlation between SEff and anxiety disorder symptoms, while Hannesdttir and Ollendick (2007) found that SEff with friends and peer strangers predicted SA in children. But as previously noted, when Rudy et al. (2012) differentiated between general and social SEff, general SEff, not social SEff, was correlated with SA. To conclude, Cieslak et al. (2008) found a relationship between negative self and world cognitions, coping SEff and post- traumatic stress, suggesting a relationship between the broader constructs of negative self- perceptions (SEst), SEff, and social anxiety.

The Present Study

There have been suggestions of outright correlations between these reviewed constructs throughout the literature, but a study centered on their inter-relationship has yet to be done. The current study focuses on the relationship between four variables: SEst, SEff, SSEff, and SA. I predict that SEst, SEff, and SSEff will each be positively correlated with each another, but that each will be negatively correlated with SA as well. I also predict that SEst, SEff, and SSEff will negatively predict SA. Finally, I predict that there will be significant differences between men and women on these four constructs.


The participants (N = 76) were a convenience sample of undergraduate students at the University of Dallas (UD). There were 35 males and 41 females surveyed who ranged in age from 18 to 22 years old, with a mean age of 20.


The survey (see Appendix A) featured a total of 20 adapted items: six items from Rosenberg's Self-Esteem Scale (RSE; Rosenberg, 1965), the three-item Mini Social Phobia Inventory (M-SPIN; Connor, Kobak, Churchill, Katzelnick, & Davidson, 2001), five items from the Social Self-Efficacy Scale (Muris, 2001), and six items from the General Self-Efficacy Scale (GSE; Schwarzer & Jerusalem, 1995). The questions were adapted to a four-point Likert-type scale, with one being strongly agree to four being strongly disagree. In addition to these items, participants were asked to provide their sex and age.


The survey was administered to five undergraduate classes, three in psychology and two in humanities, whose professors had agreed to aid in the data collection process. I administered the surveys at the beginning of the class, with a brief introduction on the voluntary and anonymous nature of the research and the survey structure. The surveys were all completed within five minutes and collected promptly. A minority of the surveys were completed outside of class by students who agreed to assist in the data collection process. These students were given the same introduction to the survey and their surveys were collected promptly as well.

Statistical Analysis

SPSS was used to run statistical analysis on the data collected. Two participants had circled between agree and disagree on one question each, so these points were eliminated from analysis. I conducted a series of Pearson correlations between all of the variables in pairs, and then ran a multiple regression of self-esteem, self-efficacy, and social self-efficacy on social anxiety. Finally, an independent sample t-test was run between males and females on each of the variables.


First, Pearson correlations between SEst, SEff, SSEff and SA were analyzed. SEst is positively, moderately correlated with SEff and SSEff (see Appendix B for the correlation matrix containing the r and p values for the correlations between SEst, SEff, SSEff, and SA). However, SEst is negatively, moderately correlated with SA. SEff is moderately, positively correlated with SSEff, and weakly, negatively correlated with SA. Finally, SSEff is moderately, negatively correlated with SA.

A multiple regression of SEst, SEff, and SSEff explained 32.8% of the variance in SA, (F(3, 72) = 11.7, p < .001). SSEff was the only significant predictor and accounted for most of the variance ( = -.462, t = -4.392, p < .001), followed by SEst ( = -.210, t = -1.858, p = .067), and then SEff ( = -.004, t = -.036, p = .971).

Finally, a series of independent sample t-tests were conducted between males and females on each of the four constructs. Males and females did not significantly differ on SEst (t(74) = -1.27, p = .206), SEff (t(74) = -1.03, p = .302), or SSEff (t(74) = -1.48, p = .143). However, males and females were significantly different on SA, with males reporting higher SA (t(74) = 2.785, p = .007).


As hypothesized, SEst, SEff, and SSEff were all positively correlated with one another and at a moderate level. Though there is little in the reviewed literature that expressly links these variables, an overwhelming majority of studies support these connections somewhat tacitly. Brown et al. (2001) exemplifies this, finding that those with high SEst react negatively when they fail at a seemingly simple task, claiming not to possess an undesirable trait. This failure threatens SEff, and so provokes a response in SEst. Cieslak et al. (2008) corroborates this relationship between SEff and SEst, finding that coping SEff was inversely related to negative cognitions about the self. Anthony, Wood, et al. (2007) and Srivastava and Beer (2005) demonstrate similar relationships: the first by describing an inverse relationship between positive or negative other evaluation and a rise or drop in SEst scores, the second by noting that while those with high SEst did not react to a lack of group acceptance and positive evaluation, those with low SEst did not act without such guarantees of SSEff. The literature thus supports these correlations, as does Leary's sociometer theory that claims SEst as a measure of relational value, drawing SEff and SSEff into the definition as well (Anthony, Wood, et al., 2007). It seems that because of the self-referent nature of these constructs, they share a common object the perceived self and so perhaps capture different facets of this object, especially in its social dimension.

Moving to SA, the negative correlations between SA and each of the self-referent variables supported the second hypothesis. SA was moderately, inversely related to SEst and SSEff, and weakly, inversely related to SEff; when individuals' levels of SEst, SEff, and SSEff are lowered, they become more socially anxious, and vice versa. Purdon, et al. (2001) and Bielak and Moscovitch (2013) support these relationships between SA and standard self-referent constructs, demonstrating that the normal population presents signs of SA at sub-clinical levels. Bielak and Moscovitch (2013) and Moscovitch et al. (2013) found a relationship between SA (experiential and trait) and a preoccupation with the possibility of others negatively evaluating them, particularly on traits they had already deemed unsatisfactory, bringing SA and low SEst together in the social sphere. Wilson and Rapee (2006) similarly found that socially anxious individuals rated themselves more negatively on a variety of traits. With regard to SEff and SSEff, Muris (2002) found a moderate inverse relationship between SEff and anxiety disorder symptoms, and Catalino et al. (2012) determined that SA was negatively related to impression efficacy. Matsushima and Shiomi (2003) similarly support the inverse relationship between these constructs, describing a correlation between SSEff and interpersonal stress. In the present study, SSEff went on to be the only significant predictor of SA out of the three self-referent variables, accounting for about a fifth of the variance in SA. This is a particularly interesting finding because SSEff accounts for such a great portion of the variance, much more than the other two variables, and yet this is one of the few points of disagreement in the reviewed literature. While several of the above studies (Ashbaugh et al., 2005; Catalino et al., 2012; Cieslak et al., 2008; Matsushima & Shiomi, 2003) corroborate this relationship, Rudy et al. (2012) found that SEff, not SSEff, was correlated with SA. Differences in instrumentation and methods of measurement would seem to be the most likely explanations for such a difference, but the inconsistency does bring to light the somewhat subjective definition of these self-referent constructs, which threatens the external validity of these studies. Further research in this area might run a correlation matrix on as many of these self-referent variables as possible in an effort to determine which ones are highly correlated and if some variables are perhaps redundant or subsumed under others which may be more general, similar to studies in which personality traits are narrowed to a few overarching traits, such as those in the Big Five Inventory.

The final finding of the study differentiates males and females on the four constructs studied, with males' higher levels of SA being the only significant result. The literature is predominately silent on sex differences within these constructs, although Muris (2002) and Rudy et al. (2012) present contrasting results regarding SEff: the former reported lower levels in females, the other in males. This silence reveals just a small piece of the hole in the literature on self-referent constructs and psychological disorders at sub-clinical and clinical levels (SA v SAD). There are more self-referent variables that could shed additional light on self-perceptions, such as self-awareness, self-image and self-confidence, which could be included in future studies, but these constructs are often disputed in the literature as subsumed under another constructs, or lack validated instruments for measurement. Erozkan (2013) included one of these variables, determining that SSEff is positively related to self-confidence. A multiple regression of many self-referent constructs could explain a greater portion of the variance in SA, and would be particularly interesting if a SAD group was included for analysis as well to distinguish further differences and similarities between the clinical and sub-clinical populations.

Further suggestions for future research include testing other disorders in relation to self- referent constructs, such as major depressive disorder (MDD). In the literature, MDD and SAD are often found to be co-morbid, making this a pertinent point of research and particularly valuable for clinicians (Muris, 2002; Wilson & Rapee, 2006). This comorbidity is also a threat to internal validity, as I did not test for it and so did not control for it as a possible third variable. Another, external threat to validity involved the formatting of the survey itself: according to participant feedback, the four- point scale needed a middle "neither agree nor disagree" point, which was either verbal or noted by circling in-between the middle two choices. Previous studies had used a 5-point or 7-point scale, which would be recommended in future studies. These in- between choices were eliminated from analysis, threatening internal reliability. Future research would benefit from the use of the full measures and a larger scale both for the participants' sake and in an effort to discern smaller differences. Further limitations of the study due to its design were its lack of random sampling in favor of a convenience sample, which threatens external validity and the generalizability to the undergraduate population of the University of Dallas, my position as a fellow student, a threat to external reliability, and the lack of consistency in the setting of test administration and the influence of social desirability bias, which threatened internal validity and reliability respectively.

A final proposed study that would eliminate some of these limitations and fill a developmental hole in the literature would be a longitudinal study of relationship patterns and the development of SAD while simultaneously noting any fluctuations in the levels of self-referent constructs, such as the ones in the present study. Such a study could take overall measures of relational health (number of friends, closeness of relationships, condition of familial relationships, isolation), self-perception (self-esteem, self-efficacy, social self-efficacy, self- confidence), and social anxiety periodically over the course of major developmental years, such as between the ages of 10 and 20, and determine if fluctuations in one of these overarching variables is correlated with or predicted by fluctuations in the other variables. Do they co-vary? A multiple regression could determine if an increase in isolation predicts an increase in social anxiety, possibly even to a clinical level, or a decrease in self-esteem or self-efficacy. A factorial ANOVA would also be a proper method of analyzing such data between test dates. Such a study would also lend insight into the relative stability of social anxiety and overall relational health. Are these trait-like qualities that remain stable over time, or do people grow into or out of low self-esteem and social anxiety? A study that could track the development of SAD with particular attention paid to the social sphere and self-perception could be beneficial in both the theoretical and clinical spheres, aid in treatment of the disorder, and offer possible warning signs or risk factors for development of the disorder. A similar study focused on MDD or even the comorbidity of the two disorders would likewise aid theorists and clinicians alike. With or without regard to clinical-level disorders, the inverse relationship between self-referent constructs and social anxiety confirms a link between self-perception and the social sphere, and opens up the field for more in-depth research into this connection across the personality, behavioral, abnormal and social branches of psychology.


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Appendix A


The following survey is intended to assess various attitudes and opinions, beliefs and behaviors of the student population of UD. Your voluntary participation is greatly appreciated. Your responses are completely anonymous, so please answer each question thoughtfully and honestly. Completing this form is consent for the researcher to use the data for analyses and presentations. If you have already completed this survey, please do not submit another. Please circle one of the four answers for each question. Notice that there are two pages to this survey.

Age: ______

Male/Female: _______

Answer the following questions as Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree:

1. I feel that I am a person of worth, at least on an equal basis with others.

2. It is easy for me to stick to my aims and accomplish my goals.

3. I am confident that I can tell a funny story well to a group of people.

4. Fear of embarrassment causes me to avoid doing things or speaking to people.

5. I can usually handle whatever comes my way.

6. I certainly feel useless at times.

7. It is easy for me to become friends with other people.

8. All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure.

9. I avoid activities in which I am the center of attention.

10. I can solve most problems if I invest the necessary effort.

11. It isn't hard for me to have a chat with an unfamiliar person.

12. I take a positive attitude toward myself.

13. It is easy for me to tell others that they are doing something that I don't like.

14. I am confident that I could deal efficiently with unexpected events.

15. On the whole, I am satisfied with myself.

16. Being embarrassed or looking foolish are among my worst fears.

17. I can usually succeed in maintaining friendships with others.

18. When I am confronted with a problem, I can usually find several solutions.

19. I feel I do not have much to be proud of.

20. I can always manage to solve difficult problems if I try hard enough.

Appendix B

Appendix C