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Investigating the Link between Neural and Real-World Responses to Social Threat in Adolescents at High Risk for Social Anxiety

Sequeira, Stefanie Lee (2021) Investigating the Link between Neural and Real-World Responses to Social Threat in Adolescents at High Risk for Social Anxiety. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Adolescence is associated with increases in sensitivity to social evaluation, which may be supported by normative developmental changes in brain function. However, heightened neural reactivity to negative social evaluation, such as peer rejection, may place adolescents at increased risk for social anxiety. The present study used novel, ecologically valid methods to test the hypothesis that heightened neural reactivity to peer rejection is associated with symptoms of social anxiety in early adolescent girls. Further, we examined whether this association might be explained by heightened emotional reactivity to social threat in daily life. Ninety-nine adolescent girls (ages 11-13 years) oversampled for shy/fearful temperament, a risk factor for future social anxiety, completed a 16-day ecological momentary assessment protocol in which they reported on their emotional responses to daily negative experiences with peers (i.e., daily experiences of social threat). Following this assessment, girls completed a social interactive task, in which they were accepted or rejected by their peers and completed control trials, in a magnetic resonance imaging scanner. Girls also reported on their social anxiety symptoms. Brain regions that activated significantly to peer rejection relative to either peer acceptance or a control were tested as predictors of social anxiety symptoms and daily experiences of social threat. Associations between neural activation to peer rejection (relative to acceptance or a control) and social anxiety symptoms were not supported. However, activation in the left caudate nucleus to peer rejection (relative to a control) was significantly associated with daily experiences of social threat, and a significant indirect effect of daily experiences of social threat on the association between left caudate activation to peer rejection and social anxiety symptoms was found. These associations were not significantly moderated by perceived friendship quality or pubertal status. Findings may suggest that adolescent girls with higher caudate activity to rejection are more likely to attend to and recall social threatening interactions, and that greater recall of social threat is associated with social anxiety. However, the cross-sectional design limits any causal interpretations that can be drawn from the indirect effect model. Future research is needed to test these questions using a longitudinal design.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Sequeira, Stefanie LeeSLS234@pitt.eduSLS2340000-0001-8622-8652
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairSilk, Jennifer
Committee MemberHanson, Jamie
Committee MemberLadouceur, Cecile
Date: 3 May 2021
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 14 January 2019
Approval Date: 3 May 2021
Submission Date: 31 March 2021
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 67
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: MS - Master of Science
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: adolescence, social anxiety, fMRI, peer rejection
Date Deposited: 03 May 2021 15:45
Last Modified: 03 May 2021 15:45


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