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Social anxiety—the fear of others’ judgment in social situations—can negatively affect one’s communicative behaviors or, more drastically, one’s quality of life. Once widely understood to be a period of “storm and stress,” adolescence does involve a marked demonstration of such evaluative fears. Typically originating during adolescence, social anxiety disorder (SAD) occurs when these fears become pervasive and debilitating. The distinctly social aspect of the disorder is often emphasized by citing the increased ability and decreased anxiety of those with SAD when engaging in activity privately rather than in the presence of others. Various media technologies have reshaped our understanding of the line between private and public, expanding the social realm by eliminating physical and temporal boundaries of communication. This paper explores adolescents’ potential manifestation of social anxiety during the performance of cyber-social activity, especially text messaging, an activity which is not definitively either private or public. Focusing on the attentional biases indicative of SAD and those emblematic of adolescence, it is hypothesized that the cognitive symptoms of anxiety are triggered by text message communication in adolescents who exhibit socially anxious tendencies. This, in turn, may contribute to the perpetuation and intensification of social anxiety. A proposed two-part study seeks to understand the cognitive processes involved in texting by measuring, in the first component of the study, latency of response and duration of composition in a controlled experimental setting where individuals are instructed to compose text messages. The second component measures cognitive activity with self-reports of anxiety symptoms and thought processes during real-time text conversations. Despite the documented suggestion that texting may serve as a tool for improving sociability, the literature reviewed in this investigation points to a proposition that adolescents with social anxiety will employ habituated social cognitions while engaging in text messaging. These thought patterns may not immediately evoke a full anxiety response, but may reinforce a way of thinking that aids the maintenance of social anxiety.
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Smillie, Megan, "Storm and Text: Considering Social Anxiety and Communication Tendencies in Adolescence" (2014). Senior Projects Spring 2014. 31.
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