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Social anxiety in childhood: the relationship with self and observer rated social skills

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Background:

Social anxiety of childhood is a common and pervasive problem. Traditional approaches to treating these difficulties have focused on providing afflicted children with social skills training. This approach has met with some, but not complete success. Recent reconceptualisations of social anxiety in the adult literature have emphasised the role of negative cognition regarding one's own social skills. Experimental evidence has demonstrated that a misperception of social skills, rather than a skills deficit per se, may be most pertinent to the understanding of social anxiety. This study set out to examine the relationship between self and observer ratings of social skill, and social anxiety in children. Method:

One hundred and ten non-referred schoolchildren aged 8–11 years were asked to give a two-minute speech to a video camera, after which they were asked to rate their performance on a number of social skill dimensions. Neutral observers also watched the videos and rated each child on the same dimensions. Results:

There was very little correlation between social anxiety level and observer ratings of children's social skills. Indeed, some very anxious children achieved high observer rated social skill scores. State socially anxious children self-reported that their social skills were poorer than less anxious children. However, other than looking more nervous than less anxious children, the social skills of the high anxious children were indistinguishable from those of their less anxious peers. Conclusions:

Socially anxious children may not necessarily lack social skills. Rather, their deficits may relate to nervousness and appraisals of their skills. Treatment programmes for these children should take care to assess social skills carefully before prescribing social skill remediation, and should consider employing a cognitive element to tackle negative misperceptions of subjective social skill.
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Keywords: Social anxiety; children; cognition; social skills

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Child Psychiatry, 2: Department of Psychology, 3: Division of Clinical Psychology, University of Manchester, UK

Publication date: July 1, 2003

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