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Cognitive Therapyand Research, Vol. 19, No. 6, 1995, pp.


Social Anxiety and Standard Setting Following

Social Success or Failure 1
Scott T. Wallace and Lynn E. A l d e n 2
Universityof British Columbia

Socially anxious and nonanxious men participated in a "practice" interaction

with an experimental assistant, ostensibly in preparation for a second
interaction with another student. The success of the practice interaction was
varied by manipulating the assistant's behavior and the experimenter's feedback
about the subject's performance. Subjects then rated their perceived social
ability (i.e., self-efficacy), their personal standard, and their perception of
others' standards for evaluating their social performance for an upcoming
interaction. Nonanxious men expected their ability to match or exceed both
their own and others' standards of evaluation in all feedback conditions.
Socially anxious men, on the other hand, believed their ability would fall short
of what others expected in all three conditions. Unlike nonanxious men,
socially anxious men who experienced a successful social interaction believed
others would expect more from them in upcoming interactions than did
anxious men who experienced social failure.
KEY WORDS:social anxiety; social feedback; standards.

There is mounting evidence that socially anxious people arrive at unduly

harsh appraisals of their behavior in social situations (e.g., Alden & Wal-
lace, 1995; Clark & Arkowitz, 1975; Lucock & Salkovskis, 1988; McEwan
& Devins, 1983; Stopa & Clark, 1993). The factors that contribute to this

1This article is based on a master's thesis by the first author under the supervision of the
second author.
Preparation of this article was supported by a grant to the second author from the Social
Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The first author was supported by
fellowships from the Social Sciencesand Humanities Research Council of Canada.
2Address all correspondence to Dr. Lynn E. Alden, Department of Psychology, University of
British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6T 1Z4.

0147-5916~)5/1200.0613507.50/00 1995 Plenum Publishing Corporation
614 Wallace and Alden

negative bias in social self-appraisal are not well understood. A related is-
sue is how such biases can be corrected. A n integral component of cogni-
tive-behavioral treatment strategies for socially anxious patients is the
provision of positive socialexperiences. It is generally assumed that drawing
the patient's attention to positive social events, for example, incidents they
have handled well or positive responses from others, will correct the pa-
tient's inaccurate perceptions. However, the relativelyfew detailed exami-
nations of the effects of positive information on socially anxious people's
self-perceptions and social perceptions suggest that positive information
does not always have the desired effect (e.g.,Lake & Arkin, 1985). In the
current study, information-processing and self-regulationapproaches to so-
cial anxiety were combincd to examine the way in which positivc and nega-
tive social experiences influence the process of social self-appraisal in
socially anxious and nonanxious men.
A number of writers have developed models of the way in which self-
appraisal contributes to social anxiety, most notably Arkin (1981) in his
self-protection theory, Carver and Schcier (1986) in thcir self-regulation
theory, and Schlenker and I.~ary (1982) in their self-presentation theory.
A central feature of all three theories is that socially anxious people ap-
praise their behavior in light of some standard and perceive themselves to
fall short of what is expected or desired. Thcse theories also indicate that
social self-appraisalis not a simple process, but involves a series of inter-
related judgments. First,one must decide what is expected or desirable in
a given situation,the goal or standard one is aiming for. This might involve
one's own sense of what is desirable (i.e.,one's personal standard) or one's
perceptions of what others expect (i.e.,others' standards). Second, one
must appraise the nature of one's own bchavior, i.e.,judge how warm, dis-
closivc, gcneraUy competcnt, and so on one has been. Finally, one must
decide if one's behavior matches what is required or desirable in that situ-
ation. Few studies have pulled apart the various facets of the self-appraisal
process to determine exactly how socially anxious people arrive at their
ncgativc judgments and where error enters into the process.
Scveral writers have suggested that the problem may arise from anx-
ious individuals'judgmcnts of what is required in social situations, or the
standard to be met (e.g., Clark & Arkowitz, 1975; Schlcnker & Leafy,
1982). Socially anxious people may have overly stringent personal standards
and compare their own bchavior to an idealized image of confident, flaw-
less social behavior, or they may believe that others expect a flawless social
performance. However, few studies have directly examined the standards,
or reference points, that pcople use to evaluate the adequacy of their social
behavior. One reason for this is the difficultyin accurately measuring such
standards. W h e n an anxious person reports that others expect "too much"
Social Success 615

from him or her, it is not clear what level of behavior is used as the stand-
ard of reference.
To avoid the problems inherent in such judgments, we developed a
"visual scale" rating procedure that uses videotaped interactions to serve
as objective referents, or anchors, for various points along a scale of social
skill. Studies using this visual scale revealed that socially anxious people
did not differ from nonanxious people in their perceptions of other people's
expectations for their social behavior and actually established lower per-
sonal standards than did nonanxious people (Alden, Bieling, & Wallace,
1994; Wallace & Alden, 1991). Thus, there was no evidence that socially
anxious people evaluated their behavior in reference to higher standards
than those used by nonanxious people. However, socially anxious people
perceived their ability more negatively than nonanxious people and, as a
result, perceived a larger discrepancy between their own social behavior
and others' expectations for them than did nonanxious individuals (Alden
et al., 1994; Wallace & Alden, 1991). This discrepancy between self-efficacy
and perceptions of others' standards appeared to be specific to social anxi-
ety in that it was not found in nonartxious dysphoric subjects (Alden et al.,
1994). The results of these studies are consistent with self-appraisal theo-
ries, particularly the Schlenker-Leary model. Socially anxious people evalu-
ate their social performance in light of their beliefs about others'
expectations (standards) for them and doubt their ability to meet such ex-
pectations. The results also suggested that doubts about meeting others'
standards were more central to social anxiety than doubts about meeting
personal standards.
In this study, we examined the way in which positive and negative
social experiences (which we will call social feedback) affected the discrep-
ancy between self-efficacy and others' standards. We were particularly in-
terested in self-appraisal following positive feedback. It is generally
assumed that positive social experiences will benefit the socially anxious
person (see for example, Haemmerlie & Montgomery, 1982). However, cli-
nicians find that socially anxious individuals do not always notice or benefit
from others' positive comments or behaviors (e.g., Alden, 1992). Empirical
studies also indicate that socially anxious individuals respond to positive
feedback in a way that offsets its beneficial effects. Socially anxious indi-
viduals are less likely to take credit for positive social outcomes and more
likely to blame themselves for negative social outcomes (e.g., Alden, 1987,
Arkin, Appelman, & Burger, 1980; Girodo, Dotzenroth, & Stein, 1981;
Teglasi & Hoffman, 1982), are less likely to remember positive as opposed
to negative self-related feedback (O'Banion & Arkowitz, 1977), and report
less positive affect and more negative affect following positive social feed-
back than do nonanxious people (Arkin & Appelman, 1983; Lake & Arkin,
616 Wallace and Alden

1985; Teglasi & Hoffman, 1982). Whereas people in general typically seek
out and accept feedback that increases their sense of self-worth (see
Sedikides, 1993), socially nonanxious people's responses to success appear
to be motivated by factors other than pure self-enhancement.
Self-presentation writers have argued that people with low self-esteem
may engage in what appear to be self-defeating behaviors in order to pro-
tect themselves from the distress of future failure (e.g., Baumeister & Tice,
1985; Baumeister, Tice, & Hutton, 1989; Tice, 1991; Tice & Baumeister,
1990). Similarly, self-verification writers have argued that people strive to
maintain a consistent self-concept in order to gain a sense of predictability
and control (e.g., Swann, 1987; Swann& Ely, 1984; Swann, Stein-Seroussi,
& Giesler, 1992). The current study offered an opportunity to contrast the
self-enhancement and self-protection viewpoints within a self-regulation
This study compared perceptions of social ability and social standards
between socially anxious subjects who received either positive feedback,
negative feedback, or no feedback on their social performance. Some re-
search suggests that positive feedback does not increase socially anxious
subjects" perceptions of their own social ability, or self-efficacy, as it does
for nonanxious people (e.g., Alden, 1987; Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Stine,
1985). Although empirical studies indicate that people often raise their
level of aspiration after success (e.g., Lewin, Dembo, Festinger, & Sears,
1944), researchers have primarily examined achievement or occupational
situations. The effect of positive feedback on standards for evaluating one's
behavior in social situations has not been studied. It is by no means clear
whether people who have positive social experiences raise their standards
for subsequent interactions (e.g., "Next time I'll tell more jokes and display
greater animation"). Thus, standards for social interactions may not operate
in a manner that parallels standards in achievement situations. In addition,
most earlier work examined personal standards of evaluation, not subjects'
perceptions of what others expect of them, the standard that is most central
to social anxiety. However, ff it is the case that positive feedback leads to
higher standards in social situations, as it does in achievement situations,
the net result for socially anxious people may be a greater discrepancy be-
tween their perceptions of their own self-efficacy (which remains un-
changed) and their perception of others' standards for them. From the
standpoint of self-regulation theories of social anxiety, this would be a nega-
tive state of affairs, and consistent with self-veriflcation theories the net
result would be to maintain (or weaken) the socially anxious person's nega-
tive self-concept.
In the present study, high or low socially anxious men were required
to become acquainted with a stranger. This is a common scenario and one
Social Success 617

that socially anxious patients often find problematic (Stravynski & Shahar,
1983). The partner's behavior and the experimenter's feedback about the
subject's performance was manipulated to create a sense that the interac-
tion had been successful, neutral, or negative. Subjects were led to expect
a second interaction and were asked to rate their personal standard for
success, the level of performance they thought others expected of them,
and their perceived ability for the upcoming interaction.
Previous research demonstrated that nonanxious subjects believed
their ability would match or exceed their own and others' standards of
evaluation, and we predicted similar results here, regardless of the success
or failure of the social interaction. In earlier work, socially anxious subjects
believed they would match their personal standard but not others' standards
for them. We expected similar relationships to emerge in this study regard-
less of social feedback. Thus, we anticipated that positive social feedback
would do little to reduce these anxious subjects' beliefs that their ability
would fall short of others' expectations for them in subsequent interactions.



The subjects were 100 male undergraduates, who were recruited from
psychology courses and received extra course credit for their participation.
A decision was made to focus on one gender because pilot testing indicated
that men and women display different behavioral reactions to a first-meet-
ing situation, and fewer studies have examined men's reactions in such situ-
ations. Subjects were selected using two measures of social anxiety, one
specific to the situation being studied and one that reflected general social
Situational Anxiety Rating. Our past research indicates that social fears
are to some extent situation-specific, particularly in nonclinical populations.
Students were given a questionnaire in class that described a series of social
situations, including one that involved getting to know a female stranger,
and were asked to rate how anxious they would be in these situations. Rat-
ings were made on a 10-point bipolar scale anchored by the terms not at
all anxious and very anxious. Subjects who scored in the top 30% of the
sample (ratings of 6 to 10 on the target situation) and subjects who scored
in the bottom 30% of the sample (ratings of 0 to 4) met the first criterion
for inclusion.
General Social Anxiety. The second inclusion criterion was the pro-
spective subject's score on the Social Anxiety subscale (S/KS) of the Self-
618 Wallace and Alden

Consciousness Scale (Fenigstein, Scheier, & Buss, 1975). Subjects high in

situational anxiety who also scored above the normative mean (12.5) of the
SAS were included in the socially anxious group (n -- 50). Subjects low in
situational anxiety who also scored below the normative mean of the SAS
made up the low-anxiety group (n = 50). Eight prospective subjects who
met the situational anxiety criterion did not meet the general social anxiety
criterion and so were not included in the study (four high on situational
anxiety and four low on situational anxiety).


One male graduate student and three undergraduate students (one

man and two women) were involved as experimenters. The two male ex-
perimenters conducted the laboratory procedures and the two female ex-
perimenters functioned as assistants in the social interaction. Female
assistants were used because opposite-sex interactions are generally de-
scribed as more difficult than same-sex interactions and are of greater con-
cern to socially anxious individuals. The assistants were trained to provide
consistent social performance across subjects within each condition. In ad-
dition, each experimenter rated his assistant's behavior on a series of 7-
point scales which assessed warmth displayed, number of questions asked,
frequency of smiles and headnods, and body posture. Five subjects were
excluded from the study due to role deviations on the part of the assistants
and were replaced with additional subjects who met the dual inclusion criteria.
Subjects were randomly assigned to experimenters and assistants so
that each experimenter and assistant interacted with an equal number of
subjects in each of the two anxiety groups. Both experimenters and assis-
tants were blind to the subject's anxiety group status.


Subjects were met at the lab by an experimenter and assistant. The

experimenter provided a general introduction in which he described the
social interaction task and informed subjects that the purpose of the study
was to examine how people perceive themselves during such interactions.
Following this, the experimenter provided the following instructions about
social standards.
In this study we are looking at the kinds of goals that people set for themselves in
social interactions, in other words, how well you would like it to go when you meet
someone for the first time. You will be meeting a female subjectand willbe asked
to talk for a while to get to know each other, just as if you had met somewhere
Social Success 619

on campus for the first time. We are interested in the goal or standard that you
set for yourself in judging how well the conversationgoes. In our research last year,
we found that meeting in a lab is not a familiarsituation for most people. So, we'd
like you to have some practice in the situation before actuallymeetingyour partner.
We have a research assistant, her name is . She'll practice with you
before you meet your partner so you can get used to the room. Your partner will
be doing the same thing. I will be observing the conversation from behind this
one-way mirror and will stop it after 5 minutes have passed.
Questions were answered by restating parts of the instructions. The
experimenter then left the room, made ratings of the assistant's behavior,
and returned after 5 rain. The apparent success of the interaction was var-
ied by manipulating the assistant's behavior and feedback provided by the
experimenter. Following the practice interaction and the feedback manipu-
lation, the experimenter provided the following instructions:
Now that you're familiar with this situation and the lab setting, we're interested in
your standard for judging the upcoming interaction.That is, we're interested in the
level of performance you would use to judge the success or failure of that
The experimenter then described the rating procedure and demon-
strated how to use the visual scale. Subjects were asked to rate the two
types of social standards and their social self-efficacy. All subjects made
the ratings in the following order: personal standard, others' standards, and
self-efficacy. The ratings of standard preceded the self-efficacy rating to
minimize any influence subjects' evaluations of their own abilities might
have on establishing standards. Following this, the subjects were told that
the second, anticipated, interaction would not occur. Subjects were then
debriefed and thanked for their participation.

Experimental Conditions

Socially anxious and nonanxious subjects were randomly assigned to

three conditions: positive feedback (ns = 16 and 17, respectively), negative
feedback (ns = 17 and 16, respectively), and no feedback (ns = 17 and
17, respectively). The apparent success of the interaction was manipulated
by comments made by the experimenter following the interaction and by
varying the assistant's behavior during the interaction. The assistant's be-
havior was manipulated to create social interactions that would be experi-
enced by subjects as successful, neutral, or negative to ensure that the
experimenter's comments appeared accurate. In all three conditions, the
assistant's behavior was scripted and rehearsed to provide performances
that appeared to be genuine and naturalistic. The experimenter's role was
also rehearsed to ensure that the experimenter's feedback appeared to be
spontaneous comments on the interaction. Subjects were also questioned
620 Wallace and Alden

as part of the general debriefing to assess whether they were suspicious

that the interactions and feedback were "rigged." None expressed suspi-
Negative Feedback Con&'~on. In this condition, the assistant enacted
the role of a quiet, relatively nonresponsive individual. She initiated new
topics of conversation by asking questions at l-rain intervals (i.e., during the
first natural pause and every 60 sec thereafter), a rate which pilot studies
indicated to be at the low end of conversations of this type. She also re-
sponded to the subject's comments; however, she volunteered little personal
information, and her answers were kept brief. After the interaction, the ex-
perimenter commented, "That was really awkward. You seemed to have dif-
ficulty handling the conversation and making your partner feel comfortable."
Positive feedback Condition. In this condition, the assistant enacted
the role of a warm and responsive person. She talked in a warm and in-
terested voice, volunteered personal information in response to subjects'
comments, and initiated new topics of conversation by asking questions at
20-see intervals. After the interaction, the experimenter commented, "That
was really good, you seemed to handle the conversation quite well and
made your partner feel comfortable."
No Feedback Condition. In this condition, the assistant talked in a
pleasant but not warm manner and asked questions at 30-sec intervals. The
experimenter did not comment.

Rating Procedure

Following the practice interaction, subjects rated the two standards

and self-efficacy on a series of 10-point scales. Instead of verbal labels,
videotapes of social interactions were used to anchor the scale. Three
videotaped segments, which displayed different levels of social skill, were
used to mark three points (corresponding to ratings of 2, 5, and 8) along
the scale. Subjects were shown the videotapes by the experimenter and were
encouraged to watch the tapes as often as necessary to make the ratings.
The visual scale was constructed in a previous study (Wallace & Al-
den, 1991). In constructing the scale, nine 2-rain social interactions between
a man and a woman were filmed. These interactions were scripted so as
to reflect various levels of socially skillful behavior on the part of both
participants. Both verbal behavior (e.g., number of questions asked, fre-
quency of pauses) and nonverbal behavior (e.g., eye contact, body posture)
were varied. The taped interactions were presented in random order to 30
undergraduate volunteers who rated each interaction on a 10-point scale
of social skill. A one-factor (films) analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed
Social Success 621

a significant between-films difference, F(8, 261) = 8.71, p < .001. Post hoc
Newman-Keuls analyses identified seven tapes that differed significantly.
From these seven, three tapes, which corresponded to rating points of 2,
5, and 8, were selected.

Dependent Measures

Standard of Evaluation. Two types of standard were rated: (1) the sub-
ject's personal standard (e.g., "What level of interaction would you per-
sonally be happy with the upcoming interaction?"); and (2) the subject's
belief regarding others' expectations for him (e.g., "What level of interac-
tion do you think we expect from you in the upcoming interaction?"). All
ratings were made on the 10-point visual scale.
Social Self-Efficacy. The visual scale rating procedure was also used
to measure subjects' perceptions of their own social ability (social self-ef-
ficacy). Subjects rated how well they expected to handle the upcoming in-
teraction (e.g., "What level of behavior do you think you will actually
achieve in the upcoming interaction?") on the 10-point visual scale.

Manipulation Checks

To evaluate whether subjects perceived the social feedback as in-

tended, subjects were asked to rate how well they thought they handled
the interaction and how responsive they thought the assistant was to
them. Ratings were made using 10-point bipolar scales which ranged from
not at all to very well and from not at all responsive to very responsive,

3Although previous research demonstrated that both anxious and nonanxious subjects have
clear perceptions of their personal standard and others' standards (Wallace & Alden, 1991),
we felt it was possible that subjects would be uncertain about their own or others' standards
after receiving positive or negative feedback. To assess this possibility, subjects rated how
clear they were about each standard on a 10-point bipolar scale, anchored by the descriptors
not at all clear and very clear The results indicated that all groups of subjects scored above
the midpoint of the scale on the clarify ratings. These clarity ratings were analyzed in a 2
(Group) × 2 (Standard) × 3 (Feedback) ANOVA. A significant main effect for standard
emerged, F(1, 94) = 43.20, p < .001, modified by a feedback by standard interaction, F(2,94)
= 3.88,p < .05. Newman-Keuls analyses revealed that subjects given positive or no feedback
were somewhat more dear about their personal standards than were subjects given negative
feedback. Subjects were understandably more clear about their own standards than about
others' standards, p < .05. No significant main effect for group occurred, which indicated
that this pattern was the same for anxious and nonanxious subjects, F(1, 94) = .75, p > .10.
622 Wallace and Alden


Preliminary Analyses

Social Anxiety

SituationalAnxiety Rating. The mean situational anxiety ratings for the

socially anxious and nonanxious groups were 8.8 and 3.4, respectively. Rat-
ings were analyzed in a 2 (Group) x 3 (Feedback) ANOVA. A significant
between-groups difference emerged, F(1, 94) = 186.4, p < .001, indicating
that socially anxious subjects had higher ratings of situational anxiety than
did nonanxious subjects. No significant feedback or interaction effect
emerged, F(2, 94) = 1.96,p > .10, and F(2, 94) = .16,p > .10, respectively.
Social Anxiety Scale. The mean SAS ratings for the socially anxious
and nonanxious groups were 15.5 and 9.2, respectively. A 2 (Group) x 3
(Feedback) ANOVA performed on this measure revealed a significant main
effect for group, F(1, 94) = 35.12,p < .001, which indicated that the anxious
subjects reported significantly more general social anxiety than the control
subjects. There were no significant effects for feedback or for the group by
feedback interaction, Fs(2, 94) = .75 and .81, both ps > .10. These analyses
confirmed that the two groups differed in terms of general social anxiety as
well as in anxiety in the specific social situation used in this study.4

Manipulation Checks

Experimenter and Assistant Checks. Since two experimenters and two

assistants were used during the study, a multivariate analysis of variance
(MANOVA) was conducted on all measures completed by subjects with
experimenter (two levels) and assistant (two levels) included to check for
between-experimenter/assistant differences. No significant main effect for
experimenter or assistant or experimenter-assistant interaction occurred.
This suggests that differences between experimenters and assistants did not

~/'be Beck Depression Inventory (BDI; Beck & Beamsdorfer, 1974) was administered so that
we could examine the extent to which the resu|ts obtained were specific to social anxiety.
The BDI was used for this purpose because depression and social anxiety have been shown
to have some common cognitive features (Kendall & Watson, 1989) and because some studies
have found discrepancies between social self-efficacy and social standards in dysphoric
students (Ahrens, Zeiss, & Kanfer, 1988). To rule out depression as a potential confounding
variable, all primary analyses were repeated using BDI scores as covariates. No significant
main effect or interaction effects were found involving depression, p > .10. Thus, depression
did not appear to influence the results obtained.
Social Success 623

systematically influence the results, and therefore data were combined

across experimenters and assistants.
Feedback. A 2 (Group) × 3 (Feedback) MANOVA of subjects' ratings
of the assistant and success of the interaction revealed a significant main
effect for feedback, F(4, 168) = 11.72, p < .001, and group, F(2, 93) =
10.71, p < .001. The Group × Feedback interaction was not significant,
F(4, 186) = .67, p = ns. Univariate analyses revealed significant differences
between feedback conditions on ratings of how responsive the assistants
were, F(2, 94) = 24.71, p < .001, and how well the conversations were
handled, F(2, 94) = 10.58, p < .001. Newman-Keuls analyses revealed that
subjects rated the assistants as significantly more responsive in the positive
and no feedback conditions than in the negative feedback condition, p <
.05. Subjects given positive feedback felt they handled the interactions sig-
nificantly better than subjects given no feedback and these subjects, in turn,
felt they handled the interactions better than did subjects given negative
feedback, p < .05. These results indicated that the manipulation of the
assistants' behavior and experimenters' comments was successful in creating
a sense that interactions had gone well or gone poorly.
Univariate analyses also revealed a significant difference between
groups on ratings of how well subjects felt they personally handled the con-
versations, F(1, 94) = 17.60, p < .001. As would be expected, averaging
over feedback conditions, nonanxious subjects rated their behavior signifi-
cantly higher than did anxious subjects.

Dependent Measures

The means and standard deviations of the dependent measures can

be seen in Table I.

Table I. Means and Standard Deviations (in Parentheses) of Dependent Measuresa

Abilities Personal Others'
Group (self-efficacy) standards standards
Socially anxious
Positive feedback (n = 15) 5.38 (1.41) 6.50 (1.63) 7.13 (1.45)
No feedback (n = 17) 5.29 (1.26) 5.76 (1.20) 6.41 (1.46)
Negative feedback (n -- 17) 5.24 (L09) 5.65 (1.11) 6.24 (1.39)
Positive feedback (n = 17) 7.5o (1.3s) 7.33 (0.77) 6.39 (1.33)
No feedback (n ffi 17) 7.20 (1.01) 7.47 (0.74) 6.13 (1.64)
Negative feedback (n = 16) 6.47 (1.23) 5.53 (1.12) 6.s8 (1.22)
°All measureswere rated by subjects on lO-peint scale~
624 Wallace and Alden

The dependent measures (self-efficacy, personal standard, others'

standards) were analyzed with two 2 (Group) × 3 (Feedback) × 2 (Self-Ef-
ficacy-Standard) between-within A.NOVAs. Group and feedback were be-
tween-subject factors. The within-subject factor compared subjects' ratings
of self-efficacy to their ratings of others' standards (A_NOVA 1) and per-
sonal standards (ANOVA 2). The within-subjects factor allowed us to de-
termine whether there were significant differences (discrepancies) between
self-efficacy and standard and to compare the anxious and nonartxious
groups in terms of differences in efficacy-standard discrepancies in the
three feedback conditions. Significant interactions were followed by simple
effects analyses, and significant main effects were followed bypost hoc New-
man-Keuls analyses.

Others' Standards

The first ANOVA compared the groups in terms of the discrepancy

between self-efficacy and others' standards. A significant effect emerged
for grotip, F(1, 94) = 18.11, p < .001, and for the Group x Rating inter-
action, F(1, 94) = 29.54, p < .001. These significant effects were modified
by a Group x Feedback x Rating interaction, F(2, 94) = 3.88, p < .05.
This three-way interaction indicated that differences between the two
groups in discrepancy between serf-efficacy and others' standards varied as
a function of feedback. Each group will be discussed below.
Nonanxious Subjects. Simple effects analyses revealed that nonanxious
men in the positive feedback condition rated their social ability significantly
(p < .05) higher than they rated others' standards, i.e., they believed their
social ability would exceed others' standards for them in the second inter-
action. Nonanxious subjects in the no feedback condition also rated their
social ability significantly (p < .05) higher than they rated others' standards.
Nonanxious subjects given negative feedback displayed no differences be-
tween ratings of ability and ratings of others' standards. Nonanxious men
who received positive feedback rated their social ability significantly Co <
.05) higher than nonanxious men who received negative feedback. The
nonanxious no feedback group fell in between the positive and negative
feedback groups and did not differ significantly from either group. The
three nonanxious groups did not differ in their ratings of others' standards
for them in the second interaction. Thus, nonanxious men in all three feed-
back conditions believed that their ability would at least meet other's ex-
pectations for them, and nonanxious men in the positive and neutral
conditions believed their ability would exceed others' expectations.
Social Success 625

Socially Anxious Subjects. Simple effects analyses revealed that anxious

men in the positive condition rated their ability significantly (p < .001)
lower than their perceptions of others' standards for their behavior. This
same pattern emerged for socially anxious men who received no feedback
and for socially anxious men who received negative feedback, (p < .05),
although the difference between ability and others' standards was not as
great as in the positive feedback condition. Anxious subjects in the three
feedback conditions did not differ in their ratings of self-efficacy. However,
socially anxious subjects given positive feedback believed others had sig-
nificantly (p < .05) higher standards for them than did anxious subjects
who received negative feedback. Anxious subjects in the no feedback con-
dition fell between these other two feedback groups and did not differ from
either group. (See Fig. 1.)

Personal Standards

This analysis examined the discrepancy between subjects' ratings of

self-efficacy and personal standards. The 2 (Group) x 3 (Feedback) x 2
(Self-Efficacy-Personal Standard) ANOVA revealed a significant main ef-
fect for group, F(1, 94) = 54.47, p < .001, and for feedback, F(2, 94) =
4.55, p < .01. A significant within-subjects (rating) effect also emerged,
F(1, 94) = 9.50, p < .01, which was modified by a significant Group x
Rating interaction, F(1, 94) = 6.92, p < .01. Averaged across feedback
conditions, the socially anxious subjects rated their ability significantly (p
< .01) lower than did the nonanxious subjects. The anxious subjects also
established significantly lower personal standards for the second interaction
than did the nonanxious subjects. Simple effects analyses indicated that so-
cially anxious subjects rated their self-efficacy significantly (p < .05) lower
than their personal standards. No differences emerged between nonanxious
subjects' ratings of efficacy and personal standards. Thus, averaged across
feedback conditions, nonanxious subjects believed their ability would meet
their personal standards, whereas socially anxious subjects believed their
ability would fall short of their personal standards. The Feedback x Rating
and the Group x Feedback x Rating interactions were not significant.


According to self-appraisal theories, socially anxious people perceive

a discrepancy between their social ability and others' expectations for them
(e.g., Arkin, 1981; Carver & Scheier, 1986; Schlenker & Leafy, 1982). As
626 Wallace and Alden

in previous studies (e.g., Wallace & Alden, 1991), such a discrepancy was
found for socially anxious men in the neutral condition who received no
feedback on their social performance. These anxious men doubted that
their ability would meet others' expectations for them in upcoming inter-
actions. The primary purpose of this study was to determine whether this
same discrepancy would be found among anxious men who had successful
and nonsucccssful social experiences. Socially anxious men in both feedback
conditions also believed their social ability would fall short of others' stand-

Socially Anxious
• Ability
I~ Other's Standard



Positive No Negative
Feedback Feedback Feedback
Fig. I. Abilityand others' standard, rated on lO-point
scales in the positive, negative, and no feedback condi-
tions for sociallyanxiousand nonanxioussubjects.
Social Success 627

ards for them. Thus, a positive social experience did little to reduce anxious
men's sense of discrepancy between their ability and others' expectations.
By contrast, nonanxious men who received no feedback or positive feed-
back believed their social ability would exceed others' standards for them.
Even nonanxious men who received negative feedback believed their social
ability would meet others' expectations.
Although one might expect that positive social experiences would
raise people's perceptions of their social ability this occurred only in the
nonanxious subjects. Whereas nonanxious men who experienced success
rated their ability higher than nonanxious men who experienced failure,
socially anxious men who experienced success did not differ from anxious
subjects in the other feedback conditions. These results are consistent with
those of a number of previous studies indicating that socially anxious in-
dividuals are less likely to incorporate positive feedback into their self-ap-
praisals than are nonanxious individuals (e.g., Alden, 1987; Greenberg et
al., 1985). Interestingly, the successful socially anxious men believed that
others would expect more of them in their next interactions than did men
who were told they did poorly. Thus, when socially anxious men were suc-
cessful in one social interaction, they rated the social "goalpost" for sub-
sequent interactions higher than did anxious men who experienced social
failure. By contrast, nonanxious men who were successful did not perceive
others' standards to be higher than nonanxious men who failed. It appears
that socially anxious people, process social outcomes as information about
others' expectations for them rather than as information about their own
When subjects' personal standards for the upcoming interactions were
examined, the socially anxious and nonanxious groups differed in the extent
to which their social ability met their own standards. Nonanxious subjects'
ratings of social ability did not differ from their ratings of personal stand-
ards, i.e., they believed their abilities were sufficient to meet their standards
for success in the upcoming interactions. Although the socially anxious sub-
jects established lower personal standards than did nonanxious subjects,
they believed their abilities would even fall short of these lower standards
for success. Social feedback did not significantly influence this general pat-
tern of results. Thus, differences between the socially anxious and nonanx-
ious subjects in discrepancy between perceived ability and personal
standards were not influenced by social success or failure.
The finding that anxious men believed that others had expectations for
them they could not meet is consistent with cognitive theories of social anxi-
ety, which emphasize discrepancies between perceived ability and standards
of evaluation (Arkin, Lake, & Baumgardner, 1986; Carver & Scheier, 1986;
Sehlenker & Leary, 1982; see also Strauman, 1989) and with earlier studies
628 Wallace and Alden

(Alden & Wallace, 1991; Wallace & Alden, 1991). Yet why would anxious
men who had interacted with warm and responsive partners and received
positive evaluations of their performances, believe that others would expect
more from them than did anxious men who were directly told they did not
do well? The most obvious explanation is that the socially anxious men did
not detect or did not accept the positive feedback. However, the manipulation
checks show that both anxious and nonanxious men reported that the assis-
tants were more responsive in the positive condition than in the negative
condition. Furthermore, both groups believed that they had handled the in-
teractions more successfully in the positive feedback condition than did their
counterparts in the negative feedback condition. Thus, the results are not
due to the failure of anxious men to discriminate the two feedback conditions
or to genuinely feel they were more successful in the positive interactions
than did their counterparts in the negative interactions.
Other explanations are provided by self-verification and self-protection
theories. Swann and his colleagues have argued that individuals with low
self-esteem unwittingly engage in actions (e.g., choosing to receive negative
information) that maintain a consistent, albeit negative, sense of self (e.g.,
Swann, 1987; Swarm & Ely, 1984). Swann suggested that the motivation be-
hind this process is to avoid the existential anxiety that would arise from
events that contradicted one's understanding of oneself and one's world. Per-
ceiving others as having high standards would maintain the socially anxious
men's beliefs that they are unable to meet other's expectations. Self-handi-
capping theorists go somewhat further and suggest that low-self-esteem in-
dividuals actively choose self-defeating strategies to protect themselves from
having to assume responsibility for future failure (e.g., Baumeister et al.,
1989; Tice, 1991; Tice & Baumeister, 1990). In the current study, socially
anxious men may have convinced themselves that others' standards would
be particularly high in their next interaction, as a means of avoiding personal
responsibility for the loss of their initial success, essentially saying: "The rea-
son I fail is that others expect too much." The negative feedback group
would presumably have less to lose and therefore have less need to self-
handicap. The current results do not allow us to choose between these some-
what different perspectives, and further study is required.
A number of caveats should be noted regarding these results. Ratings
of standards were made in the same order and always preceded the rating
of serf-efficacy. Hence, these ratings are subject to order effects. However,
ratings of self-efficacy made on the visual scale agreed with subjects' ratings
of self-efficacy on the self-report selection measure, which provides some
indication that the placement of this item in the visual rating task had no
dramatic effects on subjects' responses. Second, this study is correlational
in nature. Social anxiety was used as a classification variable, not manipu-
Social Success 629

lated. The high- and low-anxiety groups may have differed on some third
factor that might account for any between-group differences observed here
(see Ingrain, 1989). However, we did assess one such factor, depression,
which did not influence the pattern of results obtained. This indicates that
the cognitive patterns noted here were due to social anxiety rather than
negative affect in general. Finally, this study examined university men in
first-meeting situations, and the results may not generalize to more intimate
types of relationships or to women. However, we feel this type of situation
is worthy of study because socially anxious patients report considerable dis-
tress in first-meeting situations. Furthermore, one must go through these
first contacts in order to develop intimate relationships. If problems arise
in first-meeting situations, the anxious person is less likely to develop
deeper friendships. In addition, although this study examined social anxiety
in university students, recent evidence suggests that socially phobic men
and women display the same reaction to positive feedback as the socially
anxious students in this study (Wallace & Alden, 1994).
In summary, these results indicate that socially anxious men who ex-
perienced social success believed others' standards for them in subsequent
interactions would be higher than did anxious men who failed. Taken to-
gether with earlier research and with clinical observations, the results of
this study indicate that cognitive therapists should examine socially anxious
men's cognitive reactions to positive social events.


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