Social Phobia Patients Have Heightened Reactions To Negative Comments

2008-10-25 10:34

In a study using functional brain imaging, NIMH scientists found that when people with generalized social phobia were presented with a variety of verbal comments about themselves and others ("you are ugly," or "he's a genius," for example) they had heightened brain responses only to negative comments about themselves. Knowledge of the social cues that trigger anxiety and what parts of the brain are engaged when this happens can help scientists understand and better treat this anxiety disorder.


Generalized social phobia (GSP) is the most common of all anxiety disorders. It is marked by overwhelming anxiety and self-consciousness in social situations. One approach to understanding anxiety disorders is to use functional brain imaging (fMRI) to explore how the brain responds to different types of social signals. fMRI can provide information on the relative activity—and thus the engagement—of different parts of the brain by tracking the local demands made for oxygen delivered by circulating blood. Scientists using this technology have reported, for example, that people with GSP have heightened responses to a variety of positive, negative, and neutral facial expressions, not just expressions that others perceive as threatening.

Results of this Study


People with GSP had heightened responses to negative comments (relative to a comparison group without the disorder) in two brain areas: the first, the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), is involved in the sense and evaluation of self; the second, the amygdala, is central to emotional processing. The responses revealed by scanning paralleled the participants' self-report of how they felt after seeing the various positive, negative, and neutral comments presented.



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I enjoyed reading your article entitled "Social Phobia Patients Have Heightened Reactions To Negative Comments." Though the brain maintains social phobia in some people, the brain can be reprogrammed with contrarian therapy. What's contrarian therapy? It's simply doing the opposite of the herd. How can contrarian therapy be used to treat social phobia? If you're socially phobic, you need to do the opposite of what most social phobics do. Most social phobics envision themselves socially failing. They play these movies in their heads over and over again, and wonder why they're social failures. You need to do the opposite. You need to play movies in your head over and over again of yourself socially succeeding. This is best done at bedtime, while you're waiting to fall asleep. If you want to take contrarian therapy a step further, do the opposite of what most normal people do. In social gatherings, most normal people seek out the most popular individuals to socialize with. You should instead seek out the most UNPOPULAR individuals to socialize with. That way, you're almost guaranteed to succeed socially! Sincerely, Al Gammate