Social anxiety (SA) is a common mental health issue, and there are a variety of treatments that can help people manage SA and cope with it. However, some people with SA continue to have difficulty in social situations and find it hard to assert themselves. Behaviors such as avoidance, nonconfrontational strategies, and submission are often employed by people with SA as coping mechanisms.
Although there has been a wide body of research highlighting the behavioral and emotional aspects of SA and how they affect one another, less is known about the verbal aspects of SA. Because submission, dominance, assertiveness, and even help-seeking often require the use of communication and verbal skills, understanding how verbal utterances are influenced by SA could provide a new look into this aspect of social anxiety issues.
To see if there are differences in how people with and without SA communicate, Lior Galili of the Bar-Ilan University in Israel recently conducted a study involving 95 participants with low and high levels of SA. The participants read aloud three written cues: one neutral, one a request, and one a command. Volume, intensity, rate of speech, and fluency were all measured as they read the sentences.
Galili found that frequency was increased and intensity was decreased in the participants with high SA. Also, command sentences were read with lower intensity by those with high SA than low SA. And when the participants read the requests, men with high SA had less intensity. For both men and women, SA was directly related to speed of speech, with high SA participants reading the slowest, especially during the request prompts.
Another interesting finding was that SA led to conflict avoidance or de-escalation strategies in the high SA men, and to a smaller degree, in the high SA women. Galili believes that this study gives a glimpse into specific gender related nuances of SA that have, until now, been unexplored. “The examination of vocal performance and specifically the expression of dominance, submission, help-seeking, and affiliation in clinically diagnosed individuals is an important future step,” added Galili.
Galili, Lior, Ofer Amir, and Eva Gilboa-Schechtman. (2013). Acoustic properties of dominance and request utterances in social anxiety. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 32.6 (2013): 651-73. ProQuest. Web.
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