Does Mind-Reading Matter for Adolescent Social Functioning? A Study of Theory of Mind, Social Anxiety and Social Acceptance

Klopper, Eve G. (2011). Does Mind-Reading Matter for Adolescent Social Functioning? A Study of Theory of Mind, Social Anxiety and Social Acceptance Professional Doctorate, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland.

       
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Author Klopper, Eve G.
Thesis Title Does Mind-Reading Matter for Adolescent Social Functioning? A Study of Theory of Mind, Social Anxiety and Social Acceptance
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011
Thesis type Professional Doctorate
Supervisor Prof Virginia Slaughter
Total pages 123
Total black and white pages 123
Subjects 380100 Psychology
Abstract/Summary Social anxiety is common, yet at high levels it can be challenging and even incapacitating (Turk, Heimberg, & Magee, 2008). This study adopted a novel approach to studying social anxiety by evaluating a theoretical argument that theory of mind abilities may reduce social anxiety (Gilbert & Trower, 2001). Also known as perspective taking or mind reading, theory of mind refers to an ability to understand one’s own, and others’, mental processes (Taylor, 2005). This study examined the relationship between social anxiety, measured using the Social Anxiety Scale – Adolescents (La Greca, 1999) and two theoretically distinct kinds of theory of mind ability – capacity to identify or predict others’ perspectives (“theory of mind capacity”, measured using an Embedded False Belief test (Rutherford, 2004) and the Revised Mind in the Eyes Test (Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Hill, Raste, & Plumb, 2001)), and application of theory of mind skills in communicative tasks (“theory of mind application” measured using an E-drawing task (Galinsky, Wheelwright, Hill, Raste, & Plumb, 2001) and two novel tasks). Given the frequent diagnosis of clinically-significant social anxiety in adolescence and the inhibiting role social anxiety can play in critical teenage developmental tasks (Hudson, Lyneham, & Rapee, 2008), this study considered a sample of 170 teenage university students. A complex pattern of relationships between social anxiety and theory of mind was found. Amongst female teenagers, social anxiety overall was unaffected by theory of mind skills. However, female teenagers with greater theory of mind skills tended to experience more social anxiety in relation to strangers and new social situations than female teenagers with lesser theory of mind skills. By comparison, male teenagers with greater theory of mind skills appeared to experience less social anxiety than male teenagers with lesser theory of mind skills. However, higher social anxiety and greater fear of negative evaluation were associated with more applied perspective taking amongst male teenagers. This study was also designed to explore an intriguing inconsistency in existing theory of mind research – whereas in young children, a modest, positive relationship between theory of mind abilities and peer acceptance has been found (e.g., Slaughter, Dennis, & Pritchard, 2002), two studies of theory of mind abilities in young adults have found that young adults with higher social status or power demonstrate lower theory of mind abilities (Galinsky, et al., 2006; Rutherford, 2004). This study attempted to reconcile these differing results, considering the relationships between theory of mind capacity and theory of mind application and social acceptance (measured by the Social Acceptance sub-scale of the Self-Perception Profile for Adolescents (Harter, 1988) and by numbers of friends on the social networking site, Facebook). No relationship was found between self-reported social acceptance and theory of mind skills. Higher numbers of Facebook friends were associated with lower theory of mind skills in female participants, but with higher theory of mind skills in male participants. Finally, this study examined the relationship between social anxiety and social acceptance, finding that higher social anxiety was associated both with lower self-reported social acceptance and lower numbers of Facebook friends. While subject to a number of limitations, these results indicate the utility of further research in this area, which may ultimately assist in refining effective treatments for clinical social anxiety.

 
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Created: Wed, 08 Dec 2010, 09:01:52 EST by Mrs Eve Klopper on behalf of Scholarly Publishing and Digitisation Service