Causes of Social Anxiety

Why Do People Develop Social Anxiety Disorder?

There has been substantial progress in identifying different etiological factors for the development of social anxiety disorder over the past years. When talking about psychological difficulties such as social anxiety disorder, most contemporary professionals agree upon the idea that they are caused by a combination of genetics, environment and socioeconomic factors. This means that there is hardly one specific reason for the development of SAD, but rather a combination of factors that promote its emergence in certain individuals.

Possible Causes of Social Anxiety Disorder

The following aspects, conditions and incidents have been linked to social anxiety and are believed to be possible causes of the disorder:

  • genetic predisposition (such as behavioral inhibition wich describes a precautious, avoidant temperament with an increased sensitivity)
  • insecure attachment style (its foundations are laid in the relationship between infant and mother in early childhood)
  • overprotective, controlling, insensitive, rejecting, and emotionally distant parents
  • parents that overemphasize the opinion of others
  • having been socially isolated as a child
  • having been shamed by parents as a disciplinary procedure
  • traumatic experiences (direct conditioning through a social fauxpas that is experienced as very embarrassing by the individual)
  • observational learning (observing another person experiencing a traumatizing social fauxpas)
  • information transfer (parents that model socially anxious behavior)
  • negative life events (moving various times during childhood, being sexually abused, parents divorce, child illness, psychopathology of a parent, etc.)
  • social skills deficit
  • cognitive biases (such as focusing on threatening cues in social situations and not noticing the neutral and positive information)
  • biological vulnerabilities (stronger cortisol response when performing in front of an audience, lower dopamine system activity, hypersensitive postsynaptic 5-HT receptors, increased heart rate reactivity in performance situations for specific subtype, greater amygdala activation for certain stimuli)
  • cultural influences (growing up and living in individualistic culture; for offensive subtype growing up and living in collectivist culture)

Root Causes or Merely Manifestations?

It is important to keep in mind that some of these “causes” can also be seen as manifestations and operate maintaining the disorder instead of having caused it. Another important point to be aware of is the likelihood of various causes interacting with each other, leading to social anxiety in their specific compound.

Keep reading → Types of social anxiety disorder