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Abstract

Performing social tasks is a dreadful experience for some people. Those who worry when social responsibilities confront them usually have a series of self-focused thoughts that make them feel inadequate. The socially anxious always anticipate fear and evaluate themselves after every social activity. They notice the slightest mistakes and behavior they ought to have exhibited. Noticing slight mistakes is a problem caused mainly by self-attentive behavior. Self-focused attention may be destructive and prevent people with social phobia from performing social responsibilities adequately. For that reason, the current research explored the effects of self-attentive behavior on anxiety and social performance to influence interventions. The research question was why people with social anxiety are not contented with their performance and reflect on social experiences after performing to evaluate themselves. The results indicated that attention on self makes a person nervous due to evaluating weaknesses. The future impact of this research is influencing researchers to study ways to ease tension because it is a significant cause of the social phobia.

Key Words: Self-focused behavior, anxiety, and social phobia

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Effects of Focused Attention on Social Performance in People with Social Phobia

Most people feel nervous about performing in social gatherings. Sometimes, the fear is extreme and may prevent the person from fulfilling the task. The fear is called social phobia if it is persistent and makes people feel that others will evaluate them. It is a condition that makes the sick fear that they will embarrass or humiliate themselves. The persistent fear makes the sick individuals worried about participating in public speaking, meetings, and other social activities. People with social phobia do not usually lack the necessary skills, but they consistently devalue their abilities, making them perform poorer than their capacity (Leigh & Clark, 2018). They also negatively evaluate themselves in social gatherings with thoughts like “I am boring.” Other characteristics of social phobia are self-directed cognitions, including speculations, negative self-judgment, and scanning self for omitted behavior. Socially anxious people often think about what they will say and what impression they will make before people. The excessive focus on self plays a causal role in social phobia and anxiety to perform.

Focused attention on self influences social anxiety through different mechanisms. People with social phobia engage in destructive self-directed mental activities during social interactions. The destructive thoughts make them worried about what they should say and how people will receive the information or actions (Chen, Short & Kemps, 2020). The sick person might feel inadequate and withdrawn from participating in social activities. A logical question that arises from the influence of those negative thoughts is the factors involved: attention on self, fear of embarrassment, and the quality of social performance. Their scrutiny answers how they influence each other in social phobia. They answer why people with social anxiety are not contented with their performance and reflect on social experiences after performing to evaluate themselves. Thus, this research explores the effects of focused attention on the level of anxiety and social performance in people with social phobia.

Literature Review

Individuals who focus on themselves and the outcomes of their actions in social activities have a high chance of forming negative cognitions. The negative perceptions are always directed at the individuals holding them (Liu et al., 2021). Self-focus research manipulations often involve asking people to perform experimental tasks in front of cameras, mirrors, or an audience. On some occasions, focus on self positively correlates with the negative thoughts during evaluative social tasks (Yoon, Seo, Kim & Choo, 2019). For example, repeated negative feedback from social tasks may cause a person to think negatively of themselves and fear performing related tasks before an audience in the future. Generally, people enjoy success and blame failure on others. However, people with social phobia blame themselves for social failures.

The tendency to form attributions about self for failure in social activities results from self-attention. Focus on self induces internal attributions and makes individuals acutely aware of their weaknesses (Gilboa%u2010Schechtman, Keshet, Peschard & Azoulay, 2020). Furthermore, attributing social failure to self makes individuals with social phobia aware of every mistake they make. Self-conscious individuals think they are always the target of observation, even in random situations. As a result, self-consciousness fuels negative evaluation and causes insensitivity that makes the sick people monitor their behavior while attempting to influence others’ views positively. The excessive focus on the self encourages internal attributions of failure and increases self-scrutiny (Lewis, Heimberg, Gilroy & Buckner, 2021). The attribution process, in turn, increases the anxiety level in people with a phobia. The sick also demonstrate objective inferiority and incompetence in social performance in social situations. Incompetence is more problematic, and a lack of basic skills often causes it. However, there is a need for further research to link lack of basic skills and incompetence in social activities.

Anxiety inhibits the production of otherwise adequate skills by interfering with information processing, producing complex social behavior, and shifting attention to social partners. Excessive focus on individuals shifts attentional resources to monitoring arousal, evaluating performance, appraising views of others, and anticipating evaluation consequences (Nikoli%u0107, 2020). Presumably, those activities distract a person from prosocial acts like active listening and the generation of relevant responses. They make a socially competent person appear to be incompetent.  

Limitations of Prior Research

Prior pieces of research are rich in information sources on how focused attention affects social performance in people with social disorders. However, they do not accurately link the effects of focused attention on the level of anxiety and social performance in people with social phobia. Focused attention may make a person realize their flows and strive to eliminate them to perform better. Also, fear may overwhelm people who focus on themselves in social activities and prevent them from executing responsibilities (Yoon et al., 2019). Therefore, the current study seeks to examine how focused attention affects the level of anxiety and social performance in people with social phobia to close the present gap.

Hypothesis

Focused attention on self raises anxiety levels and negatively affects performance in social roles among people with social phobia.

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Method

Participants

As part of research for interventions for social phobia, 38 students from Nassau Community College participated in the current study. All the participants had a social phobia diagnosis. The number of female participants was equal to the number of male participants. Their mean age was 24 and ranged from 19 to 28. The participants reported a mean duration of 10 years of social phobia. Caucasians were the most significant part of the group (80%), followed by the Asians (10%). Participants from other backgrounds were the least (10%). The sample nearly reflects the ethnicity of New York, where the Community college is located.

Procedure

The participants were grouped into two, A and B. Members in both groups performed live and were videotaped for subsequent rating. The researcher assigned speech tasks randomly to the groups of the participants. Members in group A took active roles while members in group B were passive. Group A members made two successive speeches whose content were bodily sensations, emotions, and thoughts. Participants who were the focus of the speeches varied in each trial. The first speech involved the experiences of the active participant, while the second speech concerned the experiences of the passive participant.

Data Management

Passive participants stood in front of an audience and were given analogous examples of situations that might happen outside the laboratory. Speeches were counterbalanced, and participants in each pair were briefed before tasks. Each of the participants rated on a scale of 0 to 100 how much anxiety they anticipated during the speeches. They also rated their skillfulness in social performance on a scale of 0 to 100 and completed focused attention questionnaires.

Results

The experimenter analyzed the results using a role-by-attention split-plot factorial variance analysis. Speech role was a between-subject factor because it did not change. The sharp focus was a within-subject repetitive measure where all the participants participated in both the self and others’ conditions. Anticipated anxiety and performance were the dependent variables. Participants were noted to be more anxious and performed less skillfully when they took active roles in speaking. The results were replicated when the participants were the target of speeches performed by others. However, passive participants did not exhibit any anxiety levels because they did not perform or were targets of speeches done by others.

Comparisons about various dimensions were made even though assigning speeches had been done randomly. There was no significant difference between groups A and B on demographic measures, including age t(24)=1.31, gender, and ethnicity. Chi-square tests were less than 1.54 for all the tests done. There were also no significant differences in severity measures of social phobia between the groups, including the completed questionnaires. There was a significant effect on the focus of attention and reported levels of anxiety anticipated before social tasks were less complicated than those during the tasks. The researcher noted that self-focused attention makes participants anticipate demonstrating poor social skills.

Discussion

The current study aimed to test if self-attentive behavior directly increases anxiety and impairs social performance in people with social phobia. Self-focused attention increases anxiety levels in social performers (Gilboa%u2010Schechtman et al., 2020). Anxiety also increased in the active participants as they showed an anxious appearance. Contrarily, self-focused attention does not influence the rating on the anticipated social performance. The results on the social rating of performance are consistent with expectations that performers appear less anxious than they feel. The report on social performance from passive participants whose social tasks were less demanding also correlates with expectations from observers that they would be less anxious and would perform well.

The study demonstrates that anxiety and arousal induce focus on self which is a significant cognitive factor in determining the social performance of a person. The non-discriminatory pattern of excessive self-focused behavior limits the explanation of its effects (Lewis et al., 2021). If every disturbed person excessively focuses on self, then self-attention does not contribute to understanding specific psychopathologies. The current research offers insight into self-focused attention by demonstrating that anxiety can increase by manipulating self-focus. The manipulation indicates that adverse effects engender anxiety, which exacerbates social performance.

Conclusion

People feel anxious when presented with social responsibilities. The anxiety level varies, affecting the accomplishment of the tasks at hand in some people. A prolonged effect of this anxiety is called social phobia. It is a problem that needs to be solved to help people accomplish social tasks more effectively. Thus, the current study explored how self-focused attention influences anxiety and social performance. The researcher discovered that self-focused attention increases wariness and negatively influences how a person performs socially. Future research should focus on easing tension and preventing people from focusing on themselves when confronted with social responsibilities. Easing the tension will shift attention from self to the tasks at hand, relieve tension, and people will perform better in social activities. 

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