Date of Award
Theory of Mind (ToM) is the ability to accurately read other peoples’ minds, which includes their intentions, thoughts, and emotions (Buhlmann, Wacker, & Dziobek, 2015). Individuals with low ToM often experience anxiety in family and social life (Coupland, 2001; Ribeiro & Fearon, 2010), which is a common feature of social anxiety disorder (SAD). Because of this connection, the present study looks at the relationship between social anxiety and ToM. I hypothesized that individuals with greater SAD symptoms would exhibit decreased ToM ability, which was measured using the Hinting Task, the Story Comprehension Task, and the Reading the Mind with the Eyes Task. Furthermore, previous research has shown that individuals with SAD show an attentional bias towards negative facial expressions (Ribeiro & Fearon, 2010). Therefore, I hypothesized that individuals with greater SAD symptoms would exhibit attentional biases toward the negatively valenced expressions on the eyes task, resulting in decreased ToM ability. Results suggest that individuals with more avoidance of performance situations have difficulty understanding metaphorical expressions. This suggests that individuals with more social anxiety symptomology tend to exhibit decreased theory of mind ability in some aspects, partially confirming my hypothesis. Conversely, increased social anxiety symptoms were directly related to correctly identifying negatively valenced expressions on the Eyes task, suggesting that as SAD symptoms increased, so did the ability to identify negative emotions. This result, however, was only a trend. Together, the results suggest some support for the relationship between ToM and SAD and merit additional research.
Reid, Shannon, "What Am I Thinking Right Now?: Social Anxiety Symptomology and Its Impact on Theory of Mind Ability" (2017). Undergraduate Honors Thesis Collection. 409.