Category: Adult Anxiety - Social

PS10- #A11 - Social Anxiety and the Social-Emotional Outcomes of Online Versus Face-to-Face Communication

Saturday, Nov 18
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Location: Indigo Ballroom CDGH, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: Social Anxiety | Social Relationships | Technology / Mobile Health

Individuals with high levels of social anxiety show a clear preference for interacting with others online rather than face-to-face.  This preference has been attributed to characteristics of online contexts that promote greater comfort and control (e.g., physical invisibility; control over timing of messages).  Unfortunately, recent research has shown that these ostensible advantages may not translate into social or emotional benefits for socially anxious individuals.  In fact, individuals higher in social anxiety have been shown to be at greater risk of maladaptive outcomes as a result of Internet and social networking site use, including social isolation, depressive symptoms, decreased state self-esteem and positive affect, and increased social anxiety.  It is still unclear, however, how these outcomes compare to those that arise from comparable face-to-face interactions.  In our study, we set out to directly compare the social and emotional outcomes that arise from brief online versus face-to-face social interactions, as a function of trait social anxiety.  We used a dyadic social interaction paradigm in which over 300 participants engaged in 9-minute conversations with their partners, either in person or through instant messaging.  Within each of these communication modalities, dyads engaged in either structured (i.e., following the procedure of the Relationship Closeness Induction Task) or unstructured (i.e., “getting to know you”) conversation.  Prior to conversing, participants completed a measure of trait social anxiety; after conversing, they completed self-report measures of state anxiety, social approach behaviours, liking, and perceptions of their partners’ liking.  Multilevel modeling analyses, with participants nested within dyads, are ongoing.  Preliminary results suggest that, contrary to expectations, participants higher in social anxiety did not benefit socially or emotionally from conversing online compared to face-to-face.  Given the widespread popularity of online social platforms, particularly for at-risk populations, this research has important implications for understanding whether the benefits of these platforms are genuine or misleading.

Carly A. Parsons

Master's student in Clinical Psychology
The University of British Columbia
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Klint Fung

Graduate student
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Lynn E. Alden

Professor
University of British Columbia