Sarah walks into a crowded classroom on her first day at her new university. She tries to remain inconspicuous as she slides into a seat at the back of the room. A few minutes later, the instructor walks through the door. He goes around the room, asking the students to introduce themselves to their classmates. As Sarah's turn to speak approaches, her heart beats rapidly, her body trembles, sweat forms on her forehead, breathing becomes difficult, and a nauseus feeling overcomes her. She quietly thinks, “What if I say something embarrassing? What if I sound stupid?” Sarah sinks deeper into her seat, desperately hoping that the instructor will skip her.
Sarah, the fictional character described in the paragraph above, suffers from social phobia (also called social anxiety disorder). According to the DSM-IV, social anxiety disorder (social phobia) is “a marked and persistent fear of one or more social performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or possible scrutiny by others” (American Psychiatric Association). Social phobia is much more common than one might assume. It is ranked as the third most common pyschiatric disorder (Beidel, Turner, 19). Research in the fields of neuroscience and psychiatry has proven that the three main factors that work together to cause social phobia are genes, brain composition, and life experiences. Studies have also shown that common effects of social phobia include an inability to form satisfying interpersonal relationships, limited academic and occupational opportunities, and alcohol or drug abuse.
When analyzing the causes of social phobia, life events must be considered first. Ina Marteinsdottir and her colleagues, researchers at the Uppsala University Hospital in Sweden, conducted an experiment to determine what life events could be associated with social phobia. In this study, there was an experimental group of people who met the DSM-IV’s criteria for a diagnosis of social phobia as well as a control group of healthy people. Each subject was given a life events rating scale and was asked to indicate which life events they had experienced and describe how much of a negative impact each event had made upon them. Not surprisingly, subjects with social phobia reported more negative events than healthy subjects. The results of the experiment showed that being separated from parents, lacking close relationships with others, having relatives with a medical illness or a drug/alcohol addiction, and being bullied at school are childhood events associated with social phobia. According to the results of the experiment, adulthood events connected to social phobia include divorce, conflicts with a partner or close relative, and the birth of one's own children (Marteinsdottir, Svensson, Svedberg, Anderberg, and Von Knorring).
If negative life events cause social phobia, then why are there some people who experience negative life events but show no signs of the disorder?...