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Description: Some people experience high levels of anxiety when they have to engage socially with other people and with the world in general. What sorts of things do you think might help reduce their tendency to avoid social interaction? Think of these three possibilities that were tested in a research article discussed in the linked article below. The three possible approaches were 1. pushing oneself to become engaged in social situations regularly over a four-week period, 2. keeping a diary of one’s personal events, and 3. asking participants to engage in three acts of simple kindness two days a week over a four-week period. Which group do you think have the lowest levels of social avoidance at the end of the study? Why do you think that might be?

Source: The surprisingly easy way to reduce your anxiety, Amy Ellis Nutt, the Washington Post

Date: April 7, 2016


Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Links: Article Link —

The research described in this linked article was conducted by Jennifer Trew and Lynn Alden at the University of British Columbia and look specifically at the social anxiety of just over 100 socially anxious University students. Participants are divided into three groups and asked to either push themselves to engage in social interaction over the month of the study or to record their personal contacts in a journal or to engage in three acts of kindness two days a week in each of the four weeks of the study. Findings were clear, the group to engage in acts of kindness “experienced a greater overall reduction in avoidance goals.” As to why this might be, the researchers point to other work that links acts of kindness to the development of stronger sense of optimism with regards to one’s place in the social world that further links that increased optimism to changes in certain areas of the brain. Suggestion seems to be the certain kinds of cognitive behaviour therapy might actually help people increase their general levels of optimism and in situations particularly involving social anxiety to management more positively and effectively.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What were the results of the study and why do you think they turned out the way they did?
  2. Do you have any experience of having engaged in any of the behaviours discussed in the study? If so, did you notice any effect on your general sense of optimism or in your general level of social comfort?
  3. While the applicability of these results for treatment programs involving socially anxious individuals seem fairly clear what might be the more general take-home message that most people would apply in their day-to-day lives?

References (Read Further):

Trew, J. L., & Alden, L. E. (2015). Kindness reduces avoidance goals in socially anxious individuals. Motivation and Emotion, 39(6), 892-907.

Dolcos, S., Hu, Y., Iordan, A. D., Moore, M., & Dolcos, F. (2015). Optimism and the brain: trait optimism mediates the protective role of the orbitofrontal cortex gray matter volume against anxiety. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, nsv106.