Better social reversal learning is associated with a more social approach across time

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Flexibly updating behaviors towards others is crucial for adaptive social functioning. Previous studies have found that difficulties in flexibly updating behaviors are associated with social anxiety (SA). However, it is unclear whether such difficulties relate to actual social behaviors. The current study investigated the relationships between negative-to-positive social reversal learning, social approach behavior, and SA across time. Participants (MTurk, Time 1 = 275, Time 2 = 126, 16 weeks later) completed a performance-based social reversal-learning task. In the initial phase, participants learned that interactions with certain individuals are associated with negative outcomes, whereas interactions with other individuals are associated with positive outcomes. In the reversal phase, these associations were reversed, requiring participants to update their behaviors. The relationships between the performance in the task, SA severity, and social approach behavior reported by participants were assessed cross-sectionally and longitudinally. We found that negative-to-positive updating was negatively associated with SA severity. Furthermore, negative-to-positive updating was positively correlated with social approach behavior, both cross-sectionally and prospectively. Hence, individuals with better negative-to-positive updating at Time 1 reported significantly more social approach behaviors across time. The results support the role of negative-to-positive updating as a mechanism associated with SA and social approach, advancing and refining interpersonal and cognitive theories of SA.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8443
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - 10 Apr 2024

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  • Belief updating
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Longitudinal design
  • Social anxiety
  • Social approach


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