Social Anxiety and Psychosocial Functioning: Investigating Relations Across Emerging Adulthood
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The social, emotional and academic tasks associated with emerging adulthood are particularly challenging for those with social anxiety, a behavior defined as fear of negative evaluation, distress with social interactions, and/or avoidance of new or all social situations. The goal of this dissertation was to research the longitudinal effects of social anxiety on psychosocial functioning in university students, looking at various behaviors key to this developmental stage of life. In my first study, I examined the relation between social anxiety, social ties, and academic achievement in an autoregressive cross-lagged analysis across three years of university. There were two major findings: the symptoms of social anxiety directly linked to academic achievement, and social ties appeared to play a pivot role through their reciprocal negative and positive relation with social anxiety and academic achievement, respectively. Study two examined social anxiety with respect to alcohol use over three years of university through latent class growth analysis. Five classes were identified, two with social anxiety that differed in levels of alcohol use, and three with low social anxiety and varying levels of alcohol use. The heterogeneity in social anxiety was related to psychosocial functioning. While both social anxiety groups reported similar social anxiety symptomology, only the group linked to higher alcohol use exhibited a greater vulnerability to other at-risk behaviors in year one (e.g., self injury). The third study followed the previously identified five groups through latent growth analysis for a total of seven years, to determine whether there was stability or change in psychosocial functioning over the long term. The results indicated that there was stability within and among groups across time in psychosocial functioning. Notably, the differences detected between the two social anxiety groups in year one continued over the long term, indicating that the at-risk behaviors associated with the social anxiety group reporting higher alcohol use persisted. Overall, this program of research revealed that those with social anxiety in university struggled more than their peers in a variety of domains. From a developmental perspective, the findings of stability in behavior suggested it might be important for intervention and prevention programs to target younger populations with strategies that are continued in a cohesive manner across university, a time when students are exposed to the pressures of achieving in competing developmental tasks.