Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Mind

Shyness By Any Other Name

NeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticMay 12, 2012 6:56 PM

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

People think of "social anxiety disorder" as more serious than "social phobia" - even when they refer to exactly the same thing.

Laura C . Bruce et al did a telephone survey of 806 residents of New York State. They gave people a brief description of someone who's uncomfortable in social situations and often avoids them. The question was: should they seek mental health treatment for this problem?

When the symptoms were labelled as "social anxiety disorder", 83% of people recommended treatment. But when the same description was deemed "social phobia", it dropped to 75%, a statistically significant difference.

OK, that's only an 8% gap. It's a small effect, but then the terminological difference was a small one. "Anxiety disorder" vs "Phobia" is about a subtle a distinction as I can think of actually. Imagine if one of the options had been a label that didn't imply anything pathological - "social anxiety" or "shyness". That would probably have had a much bigger impact.

This matters, especially in regards to current debates over the upcoming DSM-5 psychiatric diagnostic manual. Lots of terminological changes are planned. This study is a reminder that even small changes in wording can have an impact on how people think about mental illness. Last week I covered another recent piece of research showing that beliefs about other people's emotions affect how people rate their own mental health.

My point is: DSM-5 will not merely change how professionals talk about the mind. It will change how everyone thinks and behaves.

rb2_large_white.png

Bruce, L. (2012). Social Phobia and Social Anxiety Disorder: Effect of Disorder Name on Recommendation for Treatment American Journal of Psychiatry, 169 (5) DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2012.11121808

    2 Free Articles Left

    Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

    Want unlimited access?

    Subscribe today and save 70%

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In