Lynn Alden


Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Memory network of social anxiety (2022)

The classical conditioning framework has been applied to understand social anxiety,. Specifically, memory representations of conditioned stimuli were proposed to elicit representations of unconditioned stimuli, which then elicit anxiety. The purpose of the current dissertation is identifying conditioned and unconditioned stimuli relevant to social anxiety. To accomplish this goal, I conducted a series of studies using computerized conditioning tasks and university student samples. First, I tested the hypothesis that physical characteristics of people are stimuli and negative evaluation is an unconditioned stimulus relevant to social anxiety. If the hypothesis is true, I would observe the effects of acquisition, extinction, generalization, and inflation. In Study A (n = 263), I found that faces paired with negative evaluation resulted in increased anxiety towards the face alone (i.e., acquisition), and subsequently presenting the face alone reduced anxiety (i.e., extinction). In Study B (n = 388), pairing a face with negative evaluation caused increased anxiety towards other resembling faces (i.e., perceptual generalization). In Study C (n = 223), pairing a face with negative evaluation and then explaining the meaning negative evaluation to be intense caused increased anxiety towards the face alone (i.e., inflation). In Study D (n = 417), I tested another hypothesis that self-attributes (e.g., of appearing physically unattractive or as appearing anxious) can serve as conditioned stimuli and negative evaluation as an unconditioned stimulus relevant to social anxiety. I found that pairing different words representing one category of self-attributes with negative evaluation, in the form of facial expressions and a text statement, caused increased anxiety towards novel words that represent the self-attributes within the same category. In sum, these results were consistent with the hypotheses tested.Through secondary analyses, I found that participant social anxiety was related to enhanced acquisition only when faces were used as the stimuli (Study A). Participant social anxiety was not related to the degree of perceptual generalization (Study B), inflation (Study C), and acquisition towards self-attributes (Study D). The results suggest that participants were not especially prone to the learning mechanisms underlying the effects investigated.

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Memory for positive social event and social anxiety (2021)

Cognitive models of social anxiety disorder posit a memory bias such that socially anxious participants recall social-event information less positively over time than non-anxious participants do. Most work has focused on memory for negative stimuli with a relative lack of research on memory for positive stimuli. Moreover, the mechanisms underlying the relationship between social anxiety and memory bias have not been formally addressed. The program of research presented herein combines cognitive theories of social anxiety disorder, studies of positivity, and basic research on memory to examine whether individuals with elevated social anxiety display biased recollection of positive events. The series of studies: 1) demonstrates the presence of a recall bias in a community sample of individuals with social anxiety disorder compared to non-anxious control participants, 2) examines post-event processing as a potential mechanism underlying the relationship between social anxiety and memory using formal mediational analysis in an undergraduate student sample, 3) investigates a method of experimentally manipulating post-event processing in an undergraduate student sample, and 4) explores the possibility of manipulating retrieval to disrupt the effects of post-event processing in an undergraduate student sample. The current research contributes to the understanding of how socially anxious individuals experience positive events and can inform future attempts to help these individuals benefit from positive experiences.

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Social anxiety and empathy for social pain (2017)

Social relationships are a vital component of human experience. An important part of developing positive social relationships is the ability to experience and express empathy for other people’s emotions (Baron-Cohen & Wheelwright, 2004). Unfortunately, building and maintaining positive relationships does not come easily to everyone. Individuals with social anxiety disorder have particular difficulty with emotion judgment, a central element of empathy. Despite these difficulties, findings from my previous research suggested that, faced with social threat, socially anxious individuals make more accurate judgments of others’ negative emotions compared to non-anxious individuals. The current research combined models of empathy, social anxiety, and social exclusion, to examine how social anxiety influenced the accuracy of emotion judgments, and whether social exclusion influenced this relationship. Across three studies, I investigated 1) the relationship between social anxiety and empathic accuracy, 2) potential mechanisms in the relationship between social anxiety and empathic accuracy, 3) the role of social exclusion on these relationships, and 4) the relationship between social anxiety, empathic accuracy, and positive social behaviours. Two studies were conducted in university undergraduate samples and a third study extended this research into a clinical community population. The findings have the potential to contribute to the understanding of socially anxious populations and inform treatments that may improve their interpersonal relationships.

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Theory of mind, social cognition, and neural functioning in schizophrenia spectrum disorders (2016)

Social cognitive functioning has been shown to be impaired in patients with schizophrenia (SZ), and these impairments are associated with functional outcomes. To better understand these deficits this dissertation investigated the neurocognitive processes associated with several social cognitive tasks. A novel irony comprehension paradigm was developed for use with electroencephalogram (EEG). The N400, a negative event related potential (ERP) that occurs 300-500 ms after the onset of a semantically incongruent word, and the P600, a positive ERP that occurs around 500-800 ms, were used to index irony comprehension. Study 1 revealed that SZ performed worse than healthy controls (HC) across three measures of social cognition – emotion perception, Theory of Mind (ToM), and irony comprehension. Furthermore, negative symptoms of SZ were associated with poor ToM performance. ERP findings showed that HC exhibited hemispheric differences in N400 amplitude in response to ironic sentences, with the left hemisphere showing smaller amplitudes to ironic compared to literal statements, whereas SZ did not show this differentiation. Although HC processed ironic statements differently compared to SZ, the direction of the effect was opposite of what was hypothesized. Study 2 examined the durability of this unanticipated finding in a larger group of HC. The N400 effect from Study 1was not replicated – there were no differences in N400 amplitude for ironic and literal statements. A difference in P600 was found whereby the P600 amplitude for literal was greater than for ironic. Self-reported schizotypal traits were associated with poor ToM performance. Study 3 examined whether computerized cognitive remediation (CCR), which has been shown to improve neurocognition, would generalize to social cognition, and whether these changes could be detected at a neural level using EEG. The CCR program implemented in this study produced no improvement in neurocognition or social cognition. Taken together, these results suggest that several aspects of social cognition are impaired in patients with schizophrenia, on a behavioural and possibly a neural level. Future studies are necessary to determine the most effective framework for CCR to minimize the deficits in interpersonal skills that are linked to both general cognitive abilities and social cognition in those with schizophrenia.

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Safety Behaviours in Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A clinical adult sample and a community youth sample (2015)

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem, affect individuals across the lifespan, and cause significant impairment and distress in a variety of life domains. Safety behaviour use has been identified as contributing to the maintenance of anxiety. The reduction of safety behaviours is a component of several adult-focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapies for anxiety. Safety behaviour use is discussed in the literature specific to individual anxiety disorders. Currently, there are few psychometrically sound measures of safety behaviours available to researchers and clinicians. The few available safety behaviour measures are associated with Social Phobia (SoP) and Panic Disorder. Few studies have examined safety behaviours associated with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). This study is composed of two separate studies : Study 1 evaluated the psychometric properties of a measure of GAD-associated safety behaviours, the Generalized Safety Behaviour Scale (GSBS), in an adult sample diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD; n = 36) compared with adults with Social Phobia (SoP; n = 34) and with non-anxious controls (n = 38). The GSBS demonstrated strong internal consistency and displayed convergent validity with measures of worry and intolerance of uncertainty. Two underlying factors were identified. Construct validity of the GSBS was further assessed through one-way ANOVAs revealing that participants with GAD engaged in more frequent GAD-associated safety behaviour use than those with SoP or no anxiety. Study 2 contributed to further psychometric investigation of the GSBS and explored safety behaviour use by youth in a community sample (N = 175). The GSBS demonstrated strong internal consistency, and good convergent validity. Two underlying factors were identified. Linear regression analysis revealed that youth with high levels of anxiety engaged in more frequent use of safety behaviours. A MANOVA analysis, grouping youth into low/moderate and at-risk/clinical levels of anxiety, revealed that the at-risk/clinical group endorsed more frequent use of safety behaviours. Implications include a discussion of the benefits of using safety behaviours to help inform treatment sessions, the importance of developing psychometrically sound measures of safety behaviours, and the need to examine safety behaviour use in youth.

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The Relationship between Safety-Seeking, Self-Authenticity, Self-Esteem, and Relatedness in Social Anxiety (2014)

Cognitive models of Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) emphasize the role of safety behaviours in maintaining the negative sense of self hypothesized to be at the core of SAD. The social psychology literature contains theories regarding the self that might enrich clinical cognitive models by addressing the interplay between aspects of self and social functioning. The first theory pertains to authenticity: being able to engage in self-congruent behaviours is associated with better social functioning and self-esteem. The second pertains to the contribution of social belonging to self-esteem. My goal in this dissertation was to examine the links between safety-seeking, authenticity, relatedness, and self-esteem suggested by an integration of these theories. In Study 1, individuals seeking treatment for SAD participated in an experiment designed to manipulate use of safety behaviours in laboratory-based social interactions (N = 93). Consistent with study predictions, reduction in safety behaviours was related to increase in self-authenticity. Additionally, increased authenticity mediated the relationship between condition and enhanced interpersonal functioning (i.e., prosocial behaviour and perceived partner reaction). In Study 2, structural equation modeling was used to evaluate two potential models of the interrelationships between safety behaviours, authenticity, relatedness, and self-esteem in a nonclinical sample (N = 279): (a) a “self-protection model,” based on the hypothesis that less reliance on safety behaviours would be linked to greater self-authenticity, which, in turn, would be linked to stronger relatedness and self-esteem, or (b) a “relatedness model” in which relatedness was hypothesized to be linked to higher self-esteem, which was linked to less safety-seeking behaviour and, thereby, greater authenticity. Results found preliminary support for both models. Study 3 extended the investigation to a clinical sample (N = 49) to examine temporal relationship between these variables during the course of interpersonal cognitive-behavioural treatment (ICBT) for SAD. Multilevel mediational modeling was used to test whether change in mediators predicted subsequent change in outcome variables. Greater support was found for the “relatedness” model from Study 2. Implications of the present findings for understanding the role of safety behaviours in maintaining the negative self-system and how clinical and social models might be usefully integrated are discussed.

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Characteristics of the posttraumatic stress disorder traumatic stressor: A study of rural and norther first responders (2013)

A diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) requires meeting Criterion A, whichstates that the individual must: 1) experience, witness, or be confronted with an event thatinvolved actual or threatened death, serious injury, or threat to one’s physical integrity (CriterionA1); and 2) experience intense fear, helplessness, or horror during or shortly after the event(Criterion A2). Despite various attempts to define Criterion A, a strong etiological link betweenthe event and resulting PTSD has remained elusive. The overarching purpose of the current studywas to examine characteristics of traumatic stressors beyond Criterion A. A cross-sectional,repeated-measures design was used to examine Criterion A1 events under two conditions: whenan event was associated with lasting distress (i.e., distressing event) and when an event was notassociated with lasting distress (i.e., control event). This research addressed four objectives.First, it identified characteristics of Criterion A1 events that evoked extreme amounts of distress(i.e., PTSD symptoms). Second, it examined whether these characteristics were more relevant fordistressing events compared to control events. Third, it tested whether event characteristicsadded incremental value in predicting PTSD symptoms above meeting Criterion A. Finally, ittested hypothesized relationships between event characteristics and processes implicated incognitive models, namely peritraumatic dissociation and posttrauma cognitions.The present study surveyed 181 first responders from northern British Columbia. Firstresponders repeatedly experience Criterion A1 events, which allowed them to rate the relevanceof event characteristics for both types of events. A principal component analysis of diverse eventcharacteristics revealed that distressing events were characterized by chaos and resourcelimitations, which were both rated as significantly more descriptive of distressing eventscompared to control events. As hypothesized, both event characteristics predicted PTSDsymptoms above meeting Criterion A, which was not associated with PTSD symptoms.Consistent with cognitive models, the event characteristics influenced peritraumatic dissociationand posttrauma cognitions, which in turn predicted PTSD symptoms. Moreover, the affect of theevent on PTSD symptoms was partially mediated by these cognitive variables. Overall, theresults of this study are novel because they underscore the importance of examining eventcharacteristics beyond Criterion A.

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Predicting and changing avoidance goals in social interaction anxiety (2013)

Social anxiety is associated with social performance deficits, interpersonal problems, andnegative affective responses to social interactions. It has also been linked to reduced approachmotivation and enhanced avoidance motivation. Models of self-regulation (e.g., Gable, 2006)suggest that social goals may contribute to interpersonal and affective difficulties, yet littleresearch has addressed this issue in the context of social anxiety. The present studies evaluated ahierarchical model of approach and avoidance in social interaction anxiety, with affecthypothesized to be a mediating factor in the relationship between general motivationaltendencies and idiographic social goals. This model was developed and refined usingquestionnaire data from a sample of 186 undergraduate students and was cross validated in asecond sample of 195 undergraduates. The findings support hierarchical relationships betweengeneral motivational tendencies, social interaction anxiety, affect, and social goals. Interestingly,positive affect inversely predicted social avoidance goals in both samples. Based on thesefindings, a third study assessed whether a technique that increases positive affect also reducessocial avoidance goals in social anxiety. A sample of 115 undergraduates high in socialinteraction anxiety were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: performing kind acts(AK; N = 38), a condition that has been shown to increase positive affect in socially anxiousindividuals (Alden & Trew, 2012); decreasing social avoidance (SA; N = 41), a condition thatdirectly targets avoidance; and recording life details (N = 36), a standard emotionally neutralcontrol condition (e.g., Lyubomirsky, Dickerhoof, Boehm, & Sheldon, 2011). The findingsindicate that, although AK did not increase positive affect relative to the other two conditions, itdid decrease social avoidance goals, an effect that was mediated by reductions in social anxiety.SA was associated with reduced social anxiety and increased relatedness need satisfaction, self-esteem, and positive social activities. Although a reduction in social avoidance goals was not evident in this group at post-intervention, multilevel modelling analyses suggest that social avoidance may decrease with additional time. The implications of these findings for models of approach and avoidance, positive affect techniques, and the treatment of social anxiety are discussed.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Do positive memories change over time? An examination of memory and social anxiety (2015)

Cognitive theorists suggest that individuals with social anxiety disorder (SAD) display negative memory biases when recalling social events. However, evidence for memory bias has proved elusive. This study builds on recent work on post-event processing of negative events and extends this research to investigate whether positive memories change over time. Undergraduate participants engaged in an unexpected speech task with free choice of topic. After rating their own performance, participants were randomly assigned to receive either positive or neutral feedback. Following a distractor task, participants reported their memory of the feedback they received and completed brief measures of mood and affect. One week later, participants rated their memory of the session one feedback, indicated the amount of post-event processing they engaged in during the week, and completed symptom measures. Results indicated a significant interaction between social anxiety and condition predicting change in memory valence. This relationship was not mediated by post-event processing. This study provides evidence for biased memory of social performance feedback among socially anxious individuals.

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How Does Rejection Induce Social Anxiety? A Test of Hurt Feelings as a Mechanism (2014)

Research suggests that victims of negative social events such as bullying, criticism, and rejection develop the tendency to experience social anxiety. Two studies were conducted to examine hurt feelings as a potential mechanism underlying this relation. In Study 1, undergraduate participants were exposed to an artificial social situation in which they were either rejected (experimental condition) or included (control condition) by one group of peers, and exposed to a second situation with another group. Results showed that participants who were initially rejected reported higher anxiety before and during their second interaction and that this effect was fully mediated by hurt feelings from the initial interaction. In Study 2, all participants were initially rejected by one group of peers and were then exposed to a second situation with another group. Half of the participants were randomly assigned to ingest acetaminophen in order to alleviate rejection-induced hurt feelings, and half were assigned sugar placebo. The acetaminophen group reported lower anxiety before and during their second interaction, and approximately half of this effect could be attributed to hurt feelings reduction. In sum, results from both studies provided preliminary support for the hypothesis. Findings were discussed in the context of social pain literature and its potential clinical applications.

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Social anxiety and empathy (2012)

Individuals with high levels of social anxiety often have difficulty developing andmaintaining interpersonal relationships (Alden & Taylor, 2004). Researchers have uncoveredmany of the negative cognitive and behavioural processes that mediate the relationship betweensocial anxiety and relationship difficulties (e.g., Baker & Edelmann, 2002; Stopa & Clark, 1993)however, relatively little research has investigated the relationship between social anxiety andthe basic social and emotional processes that facilitate positive relational functioning (Lochner etal., 2003; Schneier et al., 1994). One such factor is the ability to empathize with the emotionaland cognitive experience of others. The link between social anxiety and empathy has not beenexamined. In this study, 121 undergraduate participants observed videos of individualsdiscussing high school events in which they were either socially included or excluded.Participants rated the positive and negative emotions the target individuals were feeling whilediscussing the events. The absolute discrepancy between participants’ and targets’ emotionratings was used as a measure of empathic accuracy. This study produced preliminary evidencethat socially anxious individuals demonstrate greater accuracy at empathizing with others’negative affect. This finding however, appears to be specific to negative social experiences suchas exclusion, and only occurs when the viewer themselves is experiencing a degree of social painor social scrutiny. There was also partial evidence that socially anxious individuals perceivemore negative affect in comparison to how others’ rate themselves. This result was only found inparticipants in the social threat experimental condition, suggesting that negative cognitive biasesmay be activated when socially anxious individuals feel anxious and/or socially scrutinized.These results provide continuing support for research on empathy gaps for social pain.

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The Effects of Social Anxiety on Accuracy in First Impressions (2012)

Since individuals with social anxiety tend to have difficulties making friends, it may bedue to inaccuracy in making and giving off first impressions. The current study used 104undergraduate students to examine two hypotheses: that individuals high in social anxiety areless accurate in their first impressions of others, and that others form less accurate firstimpressions of individuals high in social anxiety. Following the Social Accuracy Methodology(SAM; Biesanz, 2010), accuracy was looked at in two ways: normative and distinctive accuracy.Participants rated their own personalities on the abbreviate BFI, engaged in brief round robininteractions with each participant, and then rated their partners’ personalities on the samemeasures. Using hierarchical linear modeling, no support was found for the first set ofhypotheses. Perceivers high in social anxiety were equally normatively and distinctly accurate intheir appraisals of others’ personalities as were perceivers low in social anxiety. Mixed findingswere found for the second research question. Targets higher in social anxiety were perceivedwith the same degree of normative accuracy as targets lower in social anxiety. However, targetshigher in social anxiety were perceived with less distinctive accuracy compared to targets lowerin social anxiety. These findings may have important implications for understanding whysocially anxious individuals have difficulty forming friendships, and consequently, may haveimplications for treatments.

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