The intra and interpersonal effects of observer and field perspective imagery in social anxiety

Kearney, Lydia (2013) The intra and interpersonal effects of observer and field perspective imagery in social anxiety. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


People with high levels of social anxiety often experience spontaneous observer perspective images of themselves while anticipating, taking part in, or recalling, social situations. These images are usually negatively distorted, and yet are often taken by the anxious person to be an accurate representation of their performance. Such images are thought to be cognitively demanding for the socially anxious person, drawing their attention to aspects of themselves which they perceive as deficient. Additionally, the images prevent socially anxious people from attending to the situation as it genuinely appears, and can form the basis of socially anxious people's post-event review of social situations. The first study in this series presents qualitative findings from an interview study and demonstrates differences between the content of both observer and field perspective images in high and low socially anxious people. The second set of studies uses experimental methods to assess the intrapersonal effects of observer and field perspective images and demonstrates that while cognitive aspects of social anxiety such as negative thoughts were not affected by imagery, more emotional aspects such as discomfort were. Additionally, these studies showed that field perspective imagery was particularly beneficial for low socially anxious people's opinions of interaction quality, in a way that did not appear to be the case for the high anxious participants. The final set of studies examines more interpersonal outcomes of imagery, and demonstrates that overall, observer perspective images led to negative outcomes for both high and low socially anxious people, as well as the mid-anxious people with whom they conversed. Additionally, imagery was shown to have an effect on the social goals that people selected in anticipation of a social interaction. Overall, it is concluded that observer perspective imagery has a range of negative outcomes on both inter and intrapersonal aspects of social anxiety. Additionally, it is suggested that field perspective images among socially anxious people may sometimes contain negative information. Results are discussed in the context of existing models of social anxiety and imagery, and of potential implications for treatment approaches.

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