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AICE member Milica Nikolić publishes new articles on the role of social emotions and social cognition in the development of social anxiety disorder, and the unique contribution of blushing to the development of social anxiety disorder symptoms.

Milica Nikolić was involved in two new research focusing on mechanisms involved in the development of social enxiety disorder.

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is one of the most prevalent mental disorders with serious individual impairments and societal costs. Little is known about the mechanisms involved in SAD development. In one of the research, she proposes that dysregulated social emotions (social fear and shyness) are crucial for SAD development and that these dysregulated social emotions originate in the disturbances in socio-cognitive abilities. The research from their lab confirmed this. It showed that behavioural and physiological indices of social fear contribute to the development of SAD in toddlerhood and early childhood. Later in childhood, between ages 4.5 and 7.5, we found a new risk factor for SAD―dysregulated shyness. Specifically, we found that negative shy expressions and prolonged physiological blushing (temperature increase) contribute to SAD development. Whereas elevated fear may be rooted in deficits in socio-cognitive skills, dysregulated shyness may be rooted in advanced socio-cognitive abilities. These findings imply that dysregulated social emotions play an important role in SAD and should be explicitly targeted in clinical treatments of SAD.

Read the article on the role of social emotions and social cognition in the development of social anxiety disorder.

In a second research, they focused on the unique contribution of blushing to the development of social anxiety symptoms.

Self‐conscious emotional reactivity and its physiological marker – blushing has been proposed to be an etiological mechanism of social anxiety disorder (SAD), but so far, untested in longitudinal designs. In a new research they tested, for the first time, whether self‐conscious emotional reactivity (indexed as physiological blushing) contributes to the development of SAD symptoms over and above social behavioral inhibition (BI), which has been identified as the strongest predictor of SAD development in early childhood. One hundred fifteen children (45% boys) and their mothers and fathers participated at ages 2.5, 4.5, and 7.5 years. Social BI was observed at all time points in a stranger approach task, and physiological blushing (blood volume, blood pulse amplitude, and temperature increases) was measured during a public performance (singing) and watching back the performance at ages 4.5 and 7.5. Child early social anxiety was reported by both parents at 4.5 years, and SAD symptoms were diagnosed by clinicians and reported by both parents at 7.5 years. Higher social BI at 2.5 and 4.5 years predicted greater social anxiety at 4.5 years, which, in turn, predicted SAD symptoms at 7.5 years. Blushing (temperature increase) at 4.5 years predicted SAD symptoms at 7.5 years over and above the influence of social BI and early social anxiety. That blushing uniquely contributes to the development of SAD symptoms over and above social BI suggests two pathways to childhood SAD: one that entails early high social BI and an early onset of social anxiety symptoms, and the other that consists of heightened self‐conscious emotional reactivity (i.e. blushing) in early childhood.

Read the article on the unique contribution of blushing to the development of social anxiety disorder symptoms.