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The Contribution of Experiential Avoidance and Social Cognitions in the Prediction of Social Anxiety

  • Brittain L. Mahaffey (a1), Michael G. Wheaton (a1), Laura E. Fabricant (a1), Noah C. Berman (a1) and Jonathan S. Abramowitz (a1)...


Background: Cognitive models propose that social anxiety arises from specific dysfunctional cognitions about the likelihood and severity of embarrassment. Relational frame theory (RFT), on the other hand, posits that social anxiety arises from the unwillingness to endure unpleasant internal experiences (i.e. experiential avoidance [EA]). Although cognitive models have garnered empirical support, it may be that newer models such as RFT can improve our ability to predict and treat social anxiety. Aims: We aimed to elucidate the relationship between dysfunctional cognitions and EA, as well as their independent and relative contributions to the prediction of social anxiety symptoms. We hypothesized that dysfunctional cognitions and EA would each be associated with social anxiety, as well as with each other. We also predicted that both EA and dysfunctional cognitions would remain independent predictors of social anxiety symptoms after controlling for each other and general distress. Method: Undergraduates high (n = 173) and low (n = 233) in social anxiety completed measures of social anxiety, dysfunctional cognitions, EA, and general distress. The overall sample was 66.3% female; mean age = 20.01 years (SD = 2.06). Results: Correlational analyses revealed that EA, dysfunctional cognitions, and social anxiety symptoms were moderately correlated with one another. Additionally, hierarchical regression analyses revealed that dysfunctional cognitions predicted social anxiety symptoms even after controlling for EA; the reverse was not found. Conclusions: Results suggest that EA and social anxiety specific cognitive distortions overlap to a moderate extent. EA does not add to the prediction of social anxiety symptoms above and beyond dysfunctional cognitions. Additional theoretical and treatment implications of the results are discussed.


Corresponding author

Reprint requests to Jonathan S. Abramowitz, 255 Davie Hall, Psychology Dept. UNC-CH, Chapel Hill, NC 27599–3270, USA. E-mail:


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The Contribution of Experiential Avoidance and Social Cognitions in the Prediction of Social Anxiety

  • Brittain L. Mahaffey (a1), Michael G. Wheaton (a1), Laura E. Fabricant (a1), Noah C. Berman (a1) and Jonathan S. Abramowitz (a1)...
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