Usually characterized as shy, inhibitive and submissive, are people who suffer from social anxiety. However, a new study suggests that there is a subset of socially anxious people who act out in aggressive, risky ways-and that their behavior patterns are often misunderstood.
In the new study, psychologists Todd Kashdan and Patrick McKnight at George Mason University found evidence that a subset of adults diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder were prone to behaviors such as violence, substance abuse, unprotected sex and other risk-prone actions.
These actions caused positive experiences in the short-term, yet detracted from their quality of life in the longer-term.
"We often miss the underlying problems of people around us. Parents and teachers might think their kid is a bully, acts out and is a behavior problem because they have a conduct disorder or antisocial tendencies," Kashdan said.
"However, sometimes when we dive into the motive for their actions, we will find that they show extreme social anxiety and extreme fears of being judged. If social anxiety was the reason for their behavior, this would suggest an entirely different intervention," Kashdan added.
The researchers suggest that looking at the underlying cause of extreme behavior can help us understand the way people interact within society.
"In the adult world, the same can be said for managers, co-workers, romantic partners and friends. It is easy to misunderstand why people are behaving the way we do and far too often we assume that the aggressive, impulsive behaviors are the problem. What we are finding is that for a large minority of people, social anxiety underlies the problem," Kashdan said.
The researchers suggest that further studies of this subset group can help psychologists better understand and treat the behaviors.
The new research has been published in Current Directions in Psychological Science.