Category: Child / Adolescent - Anxiety
Pediatric social anxiety has been associated with deficits in recognizing emotions in others (Simonian et al., 2001). Anxiety-related deficits in emotion recognition (ER) are believed to negatively impact one’s relationships with friends and family members (e.g., Collin et al., 2013), which may contribute to a worsening of one’s global functioning. However, to our knowledge, no study has directly tested the relationship between ER and global functioning in pediatric anxiety, nor have they examined if this deficit pertains solely to the recognition of others’ emotions or instead, represents a broader deficit that includes the identification of one’s own emotions. In the current study, we assessed the relationship between ER abilities (both regarding self and others’ emotions) and global functioning in socially anxious adolescents. Anger was our targeted emotion given that social anxiety disorder involves the concern over being negatively evaluated by others. We hypothesized that poorer ER accuracy for angry faces as well as ability to correctly identify one’s emotions would be associated with worse global functioning. Because ER abilities improve with age (Lawrence et al., 2015), we anticipated that age would moderate this relationship.
Fifty-six adolescents with social anxiety disorder (Gender: ~71% female; Age: M = 14.32, SD = 4.54) who participated in an NIMH clinical trial completed an ER task including angry and neutral adolescent face stimuli. Participants also filled out the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale (DERS; Gratz & Roemer, 2004). The lack of emotional clarity subscale of the DERS, which assesses one’s ability to accurately recognize one’s feelings, was used as a measure of self-focused ER. Global functioning was assessed with the Children's Global Assessment Scale completed by our independent assessors.
Both measures of ER were predictive of global functioning, with poorer self-reported ER and lower accuracy for angry faces predicting worse global functioning (DERS: B = -1.19; Task Accuracy: B = 13.39). Separate moderation analyses suggested that age significantly moderated both of these relationships (DERS: Interaction B = -1.65; Task Accuracy: Interaction B = -2.11), with older adolescents showing a stronger relationship between ER (both regarding self and others) and global functioning.
The results expand upon previous literature by demonstrating the theorized link between anxiety-related ER deficits and functioning both with questionnaire and behavioral data. Moreover, the results suggest that this relationship is not limited to one’s ability to recognize emotions in others, but may also pertain to one’s ability to accurately identify one’s own emotions. This suggests that it may be beneficial to incorporate self-focused ER training when addressing ER deficits in socially anxious adolescents. The moderating effect of age suggests targeting this deficit in an older adolescent group might be particularly beneficial.
Marlene Strege– B.A., Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia
Nicole Capriola– Graduate Student, Virginia Tech, Henrico, Virginia
Sarah Ryan– Student, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia
Reina Factor– Graduate Student, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia
John Richey– Virginia Tech
Thomas H. Ollendick– Virginia Tech