Lonely People Increase Social Skills, Reduce “Choking” by Reframing Anxiety

Julianne Holt-Lundstad

Julianne Holt-Lundstad

Loneliness increases mortality risk by 26 percent, comparable to health risks posed by obesity, cigarette smoking, and excessive alcohol use among both young people and the elderly, according to Brigham Young University’s Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Timothy B. Smith, Mark Baker, Tyler Harris, and David Stephenson. Besides the emotional discomfort of loneliness, it’s harms people’s health.

Timothy Smith

Timothy Smith

Loneliness and social isolation differ, with some people feeling lonely in the presence of others, and some loners not reporting loneliness.
However, both loneliness and social isolation increased risk for mortality in a meta-analysis of more than 3 million participants from studies including measures of loneliness, social isolation, and living alone.

Megan Knowles

Megan Knowles

Many people assume that individuals are lonely because they are socially isolated and have poor social skills.
However, lonely individuals may not need to acquire social skills to escape loneliness.
They seem to benefit more from learning to cope with social performance anxiety, found Franklin & Marshall College’s Megan L. Knowles, Gale M. Lucas of University of Southern CaliforniaFlorida State University’s Roy Baumeister, Wendi L. Gardner of Northwestern.

Gale M. Lucas

Gale M. Lucas

More than 85 volunteers completed a loneliness self-report, then identified emotions on computer-presented faces.
Lonely people out-performed non-lonely people when social sensitivity tasks were described as measures of academic aptitude.
However, lonely participants performed worse when tasks were presented as tests of social aptitude, and these volunteers also reported difficulty forming and maintaining friendships.

Roy Baumeister

Roy Baumeister

These findings suggest that social anxiety leads to “choking” in social “performance ” situations and perpetuating loneliness.

Wendi Gardner

Wendi Gardner

However, lonelier people are better than non-lonely at remembering social information — a key component of social competence.
Northwestern’s Wendi L. Gardner, Cynthia L. Pickett of University of California – Davis, and Ohio State University’s Marilynn B. Brewer found this non-intuitive trend when they presented volunteers with a simulated computer chat task that provided brief acceptance or rejection experiences, then a diary containing both social and individual events.

Cynthia L. Pickett

Cynthia L. Pickett

Knowles’ team found that volunteers who excessively focused on social interactions performed less well, but increased performance when they reattributed feelings to an external cause.

They tested this hypothesis by giving volunteers a non-caffeinated energy-drink-like beverage, and advising that any jitters they might experience resulted from the caffeine they’d just consumed.
This explanation provided a plausible but false rationale for anxious feelings.

Alison Wood Brooks

Alison Wood Brooks

previous blog post outlined a similar finding by Harvard’s Alison Wood Brooks when people who reframed nervousness as “excitement” performed better on stressful tasks like singing in public.

An additional coping approach for lonely people is modifying personal mindsets following social loss cues.

Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck

Fixed mindset, suggested Stanford’s Carol Dweck, is a belief that personal capabilities are given, fixed, an limited to present capacities, and it’s similar to security-oriented, prevention-focused behaviors of lonely people in research by University of Southern California’s Lucas with Knowles, Gardner, Daniel C. Molden and Valerie E. Jefferis of Northwestern.
This  mindset can lead to fear, anxiety, protectiveness and guardedness.

Daniel Molden

Daniel Molden

In contrast, growth mindset is similar to promotion-focused responses like attempts at social engagement.
This developmental mindset believes that personal capabilities can expand based on commitment, effort, practice, instruction, confronting and correcting mistakes.
This mindset enables teamwork, collaboration, and social interaction.

Marilynn Brewer

Marilynn Brewer

Participants received either subtle acceptance cues or rejection cues, which were associated with adopting either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
Those who received positive primes were more able to develop a promotion-focused growth mindset, leading to more effective social thoughts, intentions, and behaviors.

People who experience social anxiety and loneliness can reduce self-protective social avoidance by reframing discomfort as “excitement” and by redirecting mindset to embrace learning and new experience.

-*How do you manage loneliness?

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One thought on “Lonely People Increase Social Skills, Reduce “Choking” by Reframing Anxiety

  1. kathrynwelds Post author

    Gary W. Kelly wrote:

    With an elderly population, there are additional confounding variables. Persons who are elderly may have medical conditions or disabilities that cause them to become more isolated, or react to their own self image in an isolating manner. Examples: –a person losing hearing may not understand the hearing loss–and react to the loss as a lack of other people taking an interest, being willing to “speak up” and “not mumble”. That can last a very long time before it is conceptualized as a personal hearing loss. Similarly a loss of vision can make it more difficult to see who is speaking, or identify the speaker. The loss of vision becomes isolating. Members of the public often handle the interactions poorly, reinforcing the isolation. This was documented well back in the 1980s. more than 60% of people who are blind lose vision after age 55–most are women. Reframing may prove difficult without the cooperation of community–which can be problematic.

    Basing a therapy on a lie is a poor strategy. It is unethical at best, and can worsen a situation when discovered, as it may well be perceived as manipulative, duping, and counter to the values of the participant. It shows at the very least, that the investigators never understood the phenomena adequately, and did not avail themselves of more appropriate and ethical strategies. One hopes that no larger program is ever attempted using a similar strategy to misleading those who are already socially isolated. *ANY* intervention should start and end with mutual respect, open communication, and a genuine compassion for anyone experiencing social isolation. Show less

    Kathryn Welds responded:

    Thanks, Gary, for the fine point about the distinction between deception and reframing as a coping mechanism. As you mention, respect, communication, and compassion are foundations for any intervention intended to augment coping.

    Reply

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