Nav: Home

Large differences in personality traits between patients with social anxiety disorder

April 29, 2020

Individuals with social anxiety disorder have markedly different personality traits than others. Emotional instability and introversion are hallmarks, according to a new study from Uppsala University published in PLOS ONE.

"Social anxiety disorder seems to be a problem that is strongly intertwined with personality, but at the same time it shows great variation," says Professor Tomas Furmark from the Department of Psychology at Uppsala University, who led the study.

Researchers have long been looking for the connection between personality factors and the risk of developing psychiatric illnesses. In psychological science, personality is typically described using five well-established dimensions: neuroticism, also known as emotional instability; extraversion, which deals with how outgoing a person is; openness; agreeableness; and conscientiousness - the 'Big Five'.

A study from Uppsala University, now published in PLOS ONE, shows that personality is strongly intertwined with the diagnosis of social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia.

The study involved 265 individuals with the diagnosis. They filled out comprehensive personality instruments, including the revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and the Karolinska Scales of Personality (KSP). They were also compared with healthy control subjects and Swedish norm data. The results showed that individuals with social anxiety disorder had markedly different personality traits, in particular, high neuroticism and introversion, in other words, a tendency to be emotionally unstable and inward turning.

At the same time, the study showed that there was a great deal of variation in personality traits among the socially anxious individuals. Three personality groups could be distinguished, based on cluster analysis of the Big Five personality dimensions.
  • The first group, with prototypical social anxiety, was both highly anxious and introverted - which may be seen as the typical form of social anxiety disorder. However, these individuals accounted for only one-third (33 per cent) of the total patient sample.
  • Individuals in the second group (29 per cent), with introvert-conscientious social anxiety, were very introverted but more moderately anxious and also had high levels of conscientiousness.
  • Individuals in the third and largest group (38 per cent), with unstable-open social anxiety disorder, were anxious while having almost normal levels of extraversion. Comparisons with norm data also showed that these individuals scored high on the personality trait openness.
"It is possible that the causes of social anxiety differ for the three groups, for example, with regard to abnormalities in brain neurotransmitter levels and genetic factors. It may also be that different treatment efforts are needed for the different types of social anxiety disorder, but further studies are needed to clarify this," says Furmark.
-end-
Ref; Costache M E, et al (2020); Higher- and Lower-order Personality Traits and Cluster Subtypes in Social Anxiety Disorder, PLOS ONE (open access) PONE-D-19-29839R1, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0232187

For further information:

Tomas Furmark, Professor at Department of Psychology, Emotion Psychology, Uppsala University
Email: Tomas.Furmark@psyk.uu.se, Telephone: +46-18-471 2153

Abstract and method:

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) can come in different forms, presenting problems for diagnostic classification. Here, we examined personality traits in a large sample of patients (N=265) diagnosed with SAD in comparison to healthy controls (N=164) by use of the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and Karolinska Scales of Personality (KSP). In addition, we identified subtypes of SAD based on cluster analysis of the NEO-PI-R Big Five personality dimensions.

Significant group differences in personality traits between patients and controls were noted on all Big Five dimensions except agreeableness. Group differences were further noted on most lower-order facets of NEO-PI-R, and nearly all KSP variables.

A logistic regression analysis showed, however, that only neuroticism and extraversion remained significant independent predictors of patient/control group when controlling for the effects of the other Big Five dimensions. Also, only neuroticism and extraversion yielded large effect sizes when SAD patients were compared to Swedish normative data for the NEO-PI-R. A two-step cluster analysis resulted in three separate clusters labelled Prototypical (33%), Introvert-Conscientious (29%), and Instable-Open (38%) SAD.

Individuals in the Prototypical cluster deviated most on the Big Five dimensions and they were at the most severe end in profile analyses of social anxiety, self-rated fear during public speaking, trait anxiety, and anxiety-related KSP variables.

While additional studies are needed to determine if personality subtypes in SAD differ in etiological and treatment-related factors, the present results demonstrate considerable personality heterogeneity in socially anxious individuals, further underscoring that SAD is a multidimensional disorder.

Previous studies (selection):

Patients' expectations influence the effectiveness of SSRI antidepressants (2019) https://www.uu.se/en/news-media/press-releases/press-release/?id=4032&typ=pm&lang=en

Antidepressants boost cognitive behavioural therapy for social anxiety (2016) https://www.uu.se/en/news-media/press-releases/press-release/?id=3336&typ=pm&lang=en

Individuals with social phobia have too much serotonin - not too little (2015) https://www.uu.se/en/news-media/press-releases/press-release/?id=2770&typ=pm&lang=en

Uppsala University

Related Personality Articles:

Infant temperament predicts personality more than 20 years later
Researchers investigating how temperament shapes adult life-course outcomes have found that behavioral inhibition in infancy predicts a reserved, introverted personality at age 26.
State of mind: The end of personality as we know it
In a study published today researchers propose that changing states of mind are holistic in that they exert all-encompassing and coordinated effects simultaneously on our perception, attention, thought, affect, and behavior.
Want to change your personality? It may not be easy to do alone
Most people want to change an aspect of their personality, but left to their own devices, they may not be successful in changing, research shows.
How personality predicts seeing others as sex objects
Several personality traits related to psychopathy -- especially being openly antagonistic -- predict a tendency to view others as merely sex objects, finds a study by psychologists at Emory University.
Scientists say you can change your personality
A review of recent research in personality science points to the possibility that personality traits can change through persistent intervention and major life events.
Personality traits affect retirement spending
How quickly you spend your savings in retirement may have as much or more to do with your personality than whether you have a lot of debt or want to leave an inheritance.
For the first time: A method for measuring animal personality
A study on mice shows animal research may need to take into account the connection between genes, behavior and personality.
Your spending data may reveal aspects of your personality
How you spend your money can signal aspects of your personality, according to research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
The sun may have a dual personality, simulations suggest
A deep dive into the sun's interior provides new clues to the forces that govern that star's internal clock.
A personality test for ads
People leave digital footprints online, and this information could helps marketers personalize ads based on individual personality types.
More Personality News and Personality Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Processing The Pandemic
Between the pandemic and America's reckoning with racism and police brutality, many of us are anxious, angry, and depressed. This hour, TED Fellow and writer Laurel Braitman helps us process it all.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#568 Poker Face Psychology
Anyone who's seen pop culture depictions of poker might think statistics and math is the only way to get ahead. But no, there's psychology too. Author Maria Konnikova took her Ph.D. in psychology to the poker table, and turned out to be good. So good, she went pro in poker, and learned all about her own biases on the way. We're talking about her new book "The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Invisible Allies
As scientists have been scrambling to find new and better ways to treat covid-19, they've come across some unexpected allies. Invisible and primordial, these protectors have been with us all along. And they just might help us to better weather this viral storm. To kick things off, we travel through time from a homeless shelter to a military hospital, pondering the pandemic-fighting power of the sun. And then, we dive deep into the periodic table to look at how a simple element might actually be a microbe's biggest foe. This episode was reported by Simon Adler and Molly Webster, and produced by Annie McEwen and Pat Walters. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.