Catching That Playful Beat: Social Anxiety and Synchronous Group Functioning

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Social anxiety (SA) is characterized by significant impairments in social functioning, yet the processes maintaining such impairments are understudied. Reduced nonverbal synchrony has been highlighted as a possible mechanism underlying these impairments. To understand the nature of synchrony in SA, individuals (N = 150) were invited to participate in an unstructured playful 3-person group social interaction–drumming together. We examined physiological synchrony during this activity using cardiac interbeat intervals (IBI) and skin conductance levels (SCL). Behavioral coordination was operationalized as the number of times group members drummed together at the same time. Additionally, affect and task difficulty were assessed following the interaction. Mean group-level (but not individual-level) SA-severity negatively predicted IBI synchrony and positively predicted SCL synchrony. As expected, individual-level SA-severity negatively predicted mood and perceived task difficulty. Behavioral coordination was not predicted by SA. As playful, unstructured, and non-goal-directed interactions constitute a central social context for the formation and maintenance of group bonds, SA may contribute to social impairments via intrapersonal and interpersonal mechanisms. Clinical implications include the fact that diagnostically, in addition to intrapersonal measures (such as measures of anticipatory anxiety and felt anxiety during the interaction) we may also assess interpersonal measures—degrees of synchrony and enjoyment during group interactions. In terms of treatment—exposures may include not only situations in which one needs to achieve a certain intra-personal goal, but also situations in which one can be invited to be a leader in a fun, unstructured group activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-470
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Nonverbal Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Bond formation
  • Group functioning
  • Social anxiety
  • Social interaction
  • Synchrony


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