Social Phobias

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Social phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder, describes people with marked and persistent anxiety in social situations, including performances and public speaking (Ballenger et al., 1998). The critical element of the fearfulness is the possibility of embarrassment or ridicule. Like specific phobias, the fear is recognized by adults as excessive or unreasonable, but the dreaded social situation is avoided or is tolerated with great discomfort.

Many people with social phobia are preoccupied with concerns that others will see their anxiety symptoms (i.e., trembling, sweating, or blushing); or notice their halting or rapid speech; or judge them to be weak, stupid, or “crazy.” Fears of fainting, losing control of bowel or bladder function, or having one’ s mind going blank are also not uncommon.

Social phobias generally are associated with significant anticipatory anxiety for days or weeks before the dreaded event, which in turn may further handicap performance and heighten embarrassment.

      The 1 -year prevalence of social phobia ranges from 2 to 7 percent (Table 4- 1), although the lower figure probably better captures the number of people who experience significant impairment and distress.

Social phobia is more common in women (Wells et a!., 1994). Social phobia typically begins in childhood or adolescence and, for many, it is associated with the traits of shyness and social inhibition (Kagan et al., 1988). A public humiliation, severe embarrassment, or other stressful experience may provoke an intensification of difficulties (Barlow, 1988). Once the disorder is established, complete remissions are uncommon without treatment. More commonly, the severity of symptoms and impairments tends to fluctuate in relation to vocational demands and the stability of social relationships. Preliminary data suggest social phobia to be familial (Rush et al., 1998).