Misperceptions of ‘Social Blunders’ among Persons with Social Anxiety Disorder

Article summary provided by Hillary Greene


A recent study highlights differences in cognitive perceptions among those with either high or low levels of social anxiety. Persons with high levels of social anxiety had more negative perceptions and distress associated with ‘social blunders’ that could occur for anyone in general as compared to perceptions of those situations by objective raters. These findings extend knowledge regarding cognitive misperceptions in those with social anxiety disorder and have direct implications for intervention approaches clinicians might use with such individuals. See details below, which describe this study on cognitive perceptions with social blunders among persons with social anxiety (Moscovitch, Rodebaugh, & Hesch, 2012).


What were the goals of this study?

The purpose of this study was to increase understanding regarding the perceptions of social blunders among persons with high or low levels of social anxiety. In particular, this study sought to examine individuals’ perceptions of emotional and interpersonal effects of social mishaps that actually occurred and that were imagined.

How did this study address these goals?

Participants for this study were undergraduate students who were screened into high or low social anxiety groups using a validated measure of social anxiety disorder called the Social Phobia Inventory (SPIN). Participants described a past ‘social blunder’ experience and rated the extent of their concern, embarrassment, shame, and perception of negative social evaluation associated with the incident. Similarly, participants rated the same response characteristics after being presented with imagined social blunder incidences in which they were asked to imagine being the subject or the observer in the incident. Additionally, trained, blind raters evaluated participants’ autobiographical social blunder descriptions and made similar response ratings. Participants also completed the Beck Depression Inventory II (BDI-II), which is a rating of depressive symptoms and severity.

What were the main findings of this study?

Overall, this study found that high social anxiety individuals rated their autobiographical social blunder experiences as being significantly more embarrassing, socially costly, and shame-inducing compared to low social anxiety individuals, but there were no significant differences across these groups in perceived negative evaluation by others. For the imagined social blunder incidents, the high social anxiety group had significantly higher ratings of embarrassment, social cost, shame, and perceived negative evaluation of others compared to the low social anxiety group.

Furthermore, this study found that individuals with high social anxiety had significantly more negative perceptions of social blunder experiences as compared to ratings by objective observers, whereas individuals with low social anxiety had no significant differences in their perceptions compared to observers. This study also found that both symptoms of social anxiety and of depression significantly predicted perceived social costs when participants responded to actual recalled and imagined social blunder incidents, although depression symptoms were not uniquely predictive of social costs when the participants imagined being an observer versus a subject in a social blunder incident.

What are the clinical implications of this study?

This study extends clinical knowledge regarding the nature of cognitive misperceptions among persons with high levels of social anxiety, which might help clinicians who work directly with individuals diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. In particular, clinicians working with these patients should help increase individuals’ awareness of their misperceptions surrounding social mishaps in efforts to reduce their levels of anxiety and distress and to increase their ability to engage in meaningful, positive social interactions. The authors of this study also suggest that clinicians might use these findings to tailor established cognitive-behavioral treatment techniques for the specific cognitive distortions associated with social anxiety. In particular, clinicians might work with these patients to create “behavioral experiments” in which clinicians provide objective ratings of patients’ descriptions of social blunders in order to raise awareness of differences between patients’ overly negative perceptions of social mishaps and perceptions made by others.

Where can professionals learn more about this study?

The study discussed here is available at the following link:




Moscovitch, D. A., Rodebaugh, T. L., & Hesch, B. D. (2012). How awkward! Social anxiety and the perceived consequences of social blunders. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 50, 142-149.



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