The scarring impact of status loss in social anxiety: An evolutionary perspective

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Evolutionary models suggest that social anxiety (SA) is associated with sensitivity to status loss. These models make several additional predictions concerning the strength as well as the specificity of the association between post-event distress (PED) following status losses and SA. First, the strength of this association is postulated to be enhanced in men, especially following status losses inflicted by other men (intra-male status losses). Second, given the evolutionary postulated relationship between social status and physical fitness, sensitivity to status loss in SA is expected to extend to physically threatening events. We examined these predictions in four online samples (total N = 1123; 59% females, 27% above the cutoff for clinically elevated SA). In all studies, participants recalled social status-loss events and rated the emotional and distressing impact of these experiences. In two samples, participants also identified and recalled physically threatening events. Our findings were consistent with evolutionary predictions. SA was associated with PED following social status-loss events (β = 0.27). This association was stronger in men than in women (β = 0.40, β = 0.16, respectively). Moreover, the SA-PED association was especially enhanced following intra-male, compared to intra-female and inter-gender, status losses (β = 0.47, β = 0.26, and β = 0.17, respectively). Furthermore, SA was uniquely associated with PED following physically threatening events, over and above PED following social status-loss events (β = 0.21). Our data highlights the significant impact of socially and physically threatening events and delineates the scarring signature of such events in SA.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102600
JournalJournal of Anxiety Disorders
StatePublished - Aug 2022

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