Women are slightly more socially anxious than men

April 9, 2014 by Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., The Conversation
Making the first move. Credit: Laura Smith, CC BY-NC-ND

Many social situations can provoke anxiety. Be it a networking event for work or having unannounced guests, these kinds of interactions can cause even the most outgoing among us to feel unsettled. But do these feelings differ between the sexes?

A study in the journal of Personality and Individual Differences tries to answer that question by surveying more than 31,000 participants across several countries – 16 in Latin America, as well as Portugal and Brazil.

The results of their analyses demonstrated that overall, reported more than . This was true of many individual social contexts including interacting with strangers and when reacting to criticism.

For some, social anxiety may arise only in specific situations (such as public speaking) and may simply lead to nervously holding a drink in two hands or a bit of fluttering uncertainty in your voice. But for many others, it can be much more debilitating and pervasive across many different situations.

Mutually awkward

In the study, participants came from all age groups, with an average age of 25. They completed a social anxiety questionnaire that assessed their uneasiness or discomfort across a variety of situations including interacting with strangers, interacting with members of the opposite sex, public speaking, expressing displeasure, reacting to criticism and speaking to authority figures. A separate measure assessed participants' anxiety in specific such as eating or drinking in public, working in small groups, working while being observed or going to a party.

Of the different social situations that researchers analysed, the greatest difference between men and women's reported anxiety was for talking to the opposite sex. This suggests that women experience greater uneasiness and stress when talking to men than men experience when talking to women.

These existed across all 18 countries and were consistent across . The reasons for the gender differences are not conclusive. As the authors point out, feelings of nervousness about talking to the opposite sex may be rooted in gender roles that encourage women to adopt a more passive role when interacting with men. Of the five social settings measured, women and men both rated interactions with the opposite sex as the second most anxiety provoking, trailing only dealing with criticism or embarrassment – in other words, being reprimanded for doing something wrong.

Look before you leap

There are limitations. First, the differences between men and women were relatively small. Second, the data was self-reported, which means the differences in the study may merely reflect women and men's willingness to report social anxiety rather than actual differences in their experience. In this case, it may simply be that it is more socially acceptable in each of the studied countries for women to admit uneasiness or uncertainty in social settings.

Cultural influences also need to be considered, because it can create power differentials, such that women may experience greater anxiety not because they are women, but because they have less power in their society. All were Catholic societies so there may be an element of patriarchy at play, influencing responses.

The existing literature on men and women's social anxiety has produced mixed results. The present study helps clarify sex differences in social anxiety by collecting a large sample taken from many countries. This data suggests women experience more social anxiety than men, and that this difference is especially prominent when talking to the opposite sex.

Though women experienced anxiety when talking to the opposite sex more than men, it is clear that both genders experience anxiety on this front – more so than most other . So take heart, if you're a little nervous or unsure about approaching or interacting with someone of the opposite sex, you're not alone.

Explore further: Younger men receive faster care for heart attacks, angina compared with women of same age

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1 / 5 (1) May 01, 2014
The results of their analyses demonstrated that overall, women reported more social anxiety than men. This was true of many individual social contexts including interacting with strangers and when reacting to criticism.

Did you control for the fact men might under-report their own weaknesses?

Personally, I don't have a problem addressing myself to authority figures. In fact that is the easiest group for me to communicate with: Authority figures or structural/administrative figures, with people 15 years or so older than me being the next easiest group to address myself to.

I suck at dealing with people my own age group, particularly opposite sex, and I've always sucked at dealing with young people, including when I was young. I have generalized anxiety disorder, so it makes things very difficult when meeting new people or doing new things, and doing new things is often a part of meeting new people. Rejection isn't exactly the problem either. I'd say fear of being wrong instead
1 / 5 (1) May 01, 2014
So take heart, if you're a little nervous or unsure about approaching or interacting with someone of the opposite sex, you're not alone.

My problem is beyond reasonable, acceptable social pressures. I have struggled with this my whole life, and it is debilitating, and embarrassing, to the point that some people even asked me whether I was gay because I didn't date because of it. It wasn't that I wasn't interested, it's that every time I try to talk to a woman in whom I'm sexually interested, I have a damn panic attack, to the point that it's like a physical brick wall blocking me from even approaching someone, to the point of eliciting chest pains, like being hit by a ball-head hammer in the chest is how bad it feels.

That is obviously a severe anxiety disorder, but I didn't understand it until a few years ago when finally diagnosed with it.

1 / 5 (1) May 01, 2014
When you are the one suffering an anxiety disorder, pre-diagnosis, you are afraid to ask for help, because of all the crap in the media and movie portrayals of mental disorders, because you wonder about issues of "soundness" for lack of a better term.

It's like torment/torture. You feel like if you ask for help and tell someone how bad the situation is they will consider you crazy, but if you don't ask for help the problem just keeps getting worse. Then when you finally do end up at a psychologist they tell you it's an anxiety disorder and can be treated with a freaking pill. It doesn't magically make social skills work, but it does help a little.

I watch normal people who interact and date, and what they experience is not even remotely comparable to me. To see it even called "anxiety" is an insulting joke really, in comparison. I don't think most people really even know what the word means.

It's one thing to know a definition. It's another to experience the torment of it yourself.
Uncle Ira
1 / 5 (2) May 01, 2014
Did you control for the fact men might under-report their own weaknesses?

No they control that yes. They come ask ol Ira-Skippy when they got to you on the list. I give them the advisement that they should take off 5 karma points for everytime you try to pretend you know the numbering stuffs. At first you had them tricked by the n-body foolishment until I explain to them you not know what that is, it just something you saw on the physorg somewhere and started flinging about because you thought it would help make up for you having the weaknesses.

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