Are Socially Anxious People Verbally Submissive?

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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  • Joely


    July 6th, 2013 at 4:26 AM

    I find that a common goal by those with SA would be to ruffle as few feathers as possible and often bring as little attention as possible to themselves.

  • Marion


    July 6th, 2013 at 6:06 AM

    These are people who are already anxious about many issues in life. To think that they then have to exert some sort of command over someone else? That must be pretty difficult.

  • Tony


    July 6th, 2013 at 1:08 PM

    Great article! I agree with all the salient points and would also like to recommend a system that helped me to manage (not cure) my social anxiety and panic attacks. My story and struggle (and link to the system I used ) can be found at

    Many blessings!

  • stressmom


    July 7th, 2013 at 4:35 AM

    hi Tony I look forward to visiting your site

  • Garner


    July 8th, 2013 at 3:51 AM

    If this is a person who is naturally anxious in any type of social setting my guess would be that in order to try to please others and make the situation not feel quite as stressful they will demur and become submissive to others on many different levels. This is probably a coping mechanism that many have learned so that they can feel as if they blend in and don’t have to worry about standing out, which may increase those feelings of dread and anxiety that they may be likely to feel when placed in different social settings.

  • bLaInE


    July 9th, 2013 at 4:19 AM

    curious as to whether SA folks who receive treatment for this disorder still continue to be this submissive even once they start learning to manage this anxiety

  • Christian


    July 22nd, 2013 at 11:45 PM

    People with social anxiety wouldn’t behave as such without a reason and that reason, I believe, is the key to curing their social issues. Maybe they resort to avoidance, submission, and non-confrontational strategies because those are just the options they deem to be most effective. And that kind of thinking is not something you develop overnight but rather a result of traumatic experiences happening over and over in their past. I think it’s very important for these people to be freed from their anxiety because they will be vulnerable to the opportunistic ones who might take advantage of them.

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