Observer perspective imagery in social anxiety: effects on negative thoughts and discomfort

Kearney, Lydia and Morgan, Julie (2011) Observer perspective imagery in social anxiety: effects on negative thoughts and discomfort. In: BABCP 2011: 39th Annual Conference and Workshops; 20 - 23 Jul 2011, Guildford, U.K.. (Unpublished)


Observer perspective imagery is hypothesised to have wide ranging deleterious effects in social anxiety. This study examined the ways in which imagery perspective influenced negative thoughts and level of discomfort during a conversation. High and low socially anxious individuals were assigned to an observer or field perspective imagery induction condition. The effects of imagery type on negative thoughts and discomfort experienced were assessed using questionnaires. Participants with high (n= 24) and low (n = 24) social anxiety, as measured by the Social Phobia and Anxiety Inventory engaged in an imagery task to focus their attention on an observer or a field perspective image of the situation. They then took part in a semi-structured conversation with the experimenter. Following this, participants completed the Negative Thoughts Questionnaire, and the Discomfort Scale. Group comparisons showed that the high socially anxious group rated the images they formed as clearer, more realistic, and easier to keep in mind than the low socially anxious groups. Univariate analyses showed that high socially anxious individuals reported experiencing more negative thoughts and feelings of discomfort during the conversation, regardless of imagery type used. Univariate analyses also showed that participants who focused on an observer perspective image reported more discomfort than those who focused on a field perspective image, regardless of anxiety group. The findings support the possibility that images of social situations are particularly salient for socially anxious individuals. The findings also support cognitive models which suggest socially anxious individuals experience negative thoughts during social situations. The results also tentatively support the possibility that observer perspective imagery may have a causal role in social anxiety, possibly by causing a negative emotional response to the situation, which may then be reflected upon in maladaptive fashions and play a role in the provenance of more cognitive social anxiety. Results are discussed in the context of cognitive theories and therapies. This study supports the use of imagery modification as an element of CBT for social anxiety. The clarity, realism and persistence of both types of images for socially anxious individuals suggests that field perspective images in socially anxious people may warrant further investigation.

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