Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 44, Issue 5, pp 1139–1152 | Cite as

The Social Ties That Bind: Social Anxiety and Academic Achievement Across the University Years

  • Christina A. BrookEmail author
  • Teena Willoughby
Empirical Research


Given that engagement and integration in university/college are considered key to successful academic achievement, the identifying features of social anxiety, including fear of negative evaluation and distress and avoidance of new or all social situations, may be particularly disadvantageous in the social and evaluative contexts that are integral to university/college life. Thus, the purpose of this study was to examine the direct effects of social anxiety on academic achievement, as well as investigate an indirect mechanism through which social anxiety might impact on academic achievement, namely, the formation of new social ties in university. The participants were 942 (71.7 % female; M = 19 years at Time 1) students enrolled in a mid-sized university in Southern Ontario, Canada. Students completed annual assessments of social anxiety, social ties, and academic achievement for three consecutive years. The results from an autoregressive cross-lag path analysis indicated that social anxiety had a significant and negative direct relationship with academic achievement. Moreover, the negative indirect effect of social anxiety on academic achievement through social ties was significant, as was the opposing direction of effects (i.e., the indirect effect of academic achievement on social anxiety through social ties). These findings highlight the critical role that social ties appear to play in successful academic outcomes and in alleviating the effects of social anxiety during university/college.


Social anxiety Social ties Academic achievement Late adolescence Longitudinal 



Funding for this longitudinal project was provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to Teena Willoughby.

Author Contributions

CB conceived the study, participated in the design of the study, performed the statistical analyses, and participated in the drafting of the manuscript; TW helped conceive the study, participated in the design and coordination of the study, performed the statistical analyses, collected the data, and participated in the drafting of the manuscript. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.


  1. Adachi, P. J. C., & Willoughby, T. (2014). Interpreting effect sizes when controlling for stability effects in longitudinal autoregressive models: Implications for psychological science. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 12(1), 116–128. doi: 10.1080/17405629.2014.963549.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Antonio, A. L. (2004). Influence of friendship groups in college. The Journal of Higher Education, 75(4), 446–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Asante, K. O., & Andoh-Arthur, J. (2015). Prevalence and determinants of depressive symptoms among university students in Ghana. Journal of Affective Disorders, 171, 161–166. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2014.09.025.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Astin, A. W. (1999). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Development, 40(5), 518–529.Google Scholar
  5. Baker, R. W., & Siryk, B. (1989). Student adaptation to college questionnaire manual. Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services.Google Scholar
  6. Baumeister, R. F., Campbell, J. D., Krueger, J. I., & Vohs, K. D. (2003). Does high self-esteem cause better performance, interpersonal success, happiness, or healthier lifestyles? Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4(1), 1–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berndt, T. J. (1982). The features and effects of friendship in early adolescence. Child Development, 53(6), 1447–1460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Biggs, B. K., Vernberg, E. M., & Wu, Y. P. (2012). Social anxiety and adolescents’ friendships: The role of social withdrawal. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 32(6), 802–823. doi: 10.1177/0272431611426145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Buhrmester, D. (1990). Intimacy of friendship, interpersonal competence, and adjustment during preadolescence and adolescence. Child Development, 61(4), 1101–1111.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Buote, V. M., Pancer, S. M., Pratt, M. W., Adams, G., Birnie-Lefcovitch, S., Polivy, J., et al. (2007). The importance of friends: Friendship and adjustment among 1st-year university students. Journal of Adolescent Research, 22(6), 665–689. doi: 10.1177/0743558407306344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chickering, A. W., & Reisser, L. (1993). Education and identity (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  12. Davey, G. C. L. (1993). A comparison of three worry questionnaires. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 31(1), 51–56. doi: 10.1016/0005-7967(93)90042-S.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Duchesne, S., Vitaro, F., Larose, S., & Tremblay, R. E. (2008). Trajectories of anxiety during elementary-school years and the prediction of high school noncompletion. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37(9), 1134–1146. doi: 10.1007/s10964-007-9224-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Epkins, C., & Heckler, D. (2011). Integrating etiological models of social anxiety and depression in youth: Evidence for a cumulative interpersonal risk model. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 14(4), 329–376. doi: 10.1007/s10567-011-0101-8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Erikson, E. H. (1966). Eight ages of man. International Journal of Psychiatry, 2(3), 281–300.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Fass, M. E., & Tubman, J. G. (2002). The influence of parental and peer attachment on college students’ academic achievement. Psychology in the Schools, 39(5), 561–574. doi: 10.1002/pits.10050.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Festa, C. C., & Ginsburg, G. S. (2011). Parental and peer predictors of social anxiety in youth. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 42(3), 291–306. doi: 10.1007/s10578-011-0215-8.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Furman, W., & Buhrmester, D. (1992). Age and sex differences in perceptions of networks of personal relationships. Child Development, 63(1), 103–115.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Ginsburg, G. S., La Greca, A. M., & Silverman, W. K. (1998). Social anxiety in children with anxiety disorders: Relation with social and emotional functioning. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 26(3), 175–185.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Goguen, L. M. S., Hiester, M. A., & Nordstrom, A. H. (2010). Associations among peer relationships, academic achievement, and persistence in college. Journal of College Student Retention, 12(3), 319–337. doi: 10.2190/CS.12.3.d.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hu, L., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cutoff criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis: Conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling, 6(1), 1–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. La Greca, A. M., & Harrison, H. M. (2005). Adolescent peer relations, friendships, and romantic relationships: Do they predict social anxiety and depression? Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 34(1), 49–61.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. La Greca, A. M., & Lopez, N. (1998). Social anxiety among adolescents: Linkages with peer relations and friendships. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 26(2), 83–94.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Leary, M. R. (2010). Social anxiety as an early warning system: A refinement and extension of the self-presentation theory of social anxiety. In S. G. Hofmann & P. M. DiBartolo (Eds.), Social anxiety: Clinical, developmental, and social perspectives (2nd ed., pp. 471–486). New York: Elsevier.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Leary, M. R., & Kowalski, R. M. (1995). The self-presentation model of social phobia. In R. G. Heimberg, M. R. Liebowitz, D. A. Hope, & F. R. Schneier (Eds.), Social phobia: Diagnosis, assessment, and treatment. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  26. Little, T. D., Jorgensen, T. D., Lang, K. M., & Moore, E. W. G. (2014). On the joys of missing data. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 39(2), 151–162.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Mackinnon, S. P. (2012). Perceived social support and academic achievement: Cross-lagged panel and bivariate growth curve analyses. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41(4), 474–485. doi: 10.1007/s10964-011-9691-1.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. McAndrew, F. T., & Jeong, H. S. (2012). Who does what on Facebook? Age, sex, and relationship status as predictors of Facebook use. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(6), 2359–2365. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2012.07.007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. McMahon, W. W., & Oketch, M. (2013). Educations’ effects on individual life chances and on development: An overview. British Journal of Educational Studies, 61(1), 79–107. doi: 10.1080/00071005.2012.756170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Meyer, T. J., Miller, M. L., Metzger, R. L., & Borkovec, T. D. (1990). Development and validation of the penn state worry questionnaire. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 28, 487–495. doi: 10.1016/0005-7967(90)90135-6.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Mitchell, M., MacInnes, D., & Morrison, I. (2008). Student wellbeing study. Christ Church, New Zealand: The Department for Innovation, Canterbury Christ Church University.Google Scholar
  32. Parade, S. H., Leerkes, E. M., & Blankson, A. N. (2010). Attachment to parents, social anxiety, and close relationships of female students over the transition to college. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39(2), 127–137. doi: 10.1007/s10964-009-9396-x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (2005). How college affects students: A third decade of research (Vol. 2). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  34. Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1, 385–401. doi: 10.1177/014662167700100306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Robinson, D. A. G., Burns, C. F., & Gaw, K. F. (1996). Orientation programs: A foundation of student learning and success. New Directions for Student Services, 75, 55–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rubin, K. H., Bowker, J. C., & Gazelle, H. (2010). Social withdrawal in childhood and adolescence. In K. H. Rubin & R. J. Coplan (Eds.), The development of shyness and social withdrawal (pp. 131–156). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  37. Russell, G., & Shaw, S. (2009). A study to investigate the prevalence of social anxiety in a sample of higher education students in the United Kingdom. Journal of Mental Health, 18(3), 198–206. doi: 10.1080/09638230802522494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Russell, G., & Topham, P. (2012). The impact of social anxiety on student learning and well-being in higher education. Journal of Mental Health, 21(4), 375–385. doi: 10.3109/09638237.2012.694505.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Schafer, J. L., & Graham, J. W. (2002). Missing data: Our view of the state of the art. Psychological Methods, 7, 147–177. doi: 10.1037/1082-989X.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Schlenker, B. R., & Leary, M. R. (1982). Social anxiety and self-presentation: A conceptualization model. Psychological Bulletin, 92(3), 641–669. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.92.3.641.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Selig, J. P., & Little, T. D. (2012). Autoregressive and cross-lagged panel analysis for longitudinal data. In B. Laursen, T. D. Little, & N. A. Card (Eds.), Handbook of developmental research methods (pp. 265–278). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  42. Sharabany, R., Gershoni, R., & Hofman, J. E. (1981). Girlfriend, boyfriend: Age and sex differences in intimate friendship. Developmental Psychology, 17(6), 800–808.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Starr, L. R., Davila, J., La Greca, A., & Landoll, R. R. (2011). Social anxiety and depression: The teenage and early adult years. In C. Alfano & D. C. Beidel (Eds.), Social anxiety in adolescents and young adults: Translating developmental science into practice (pp. 75–91). Washington, DC: Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  44. Statistics Canada. (2006). Population by ethnic origin. Retrieved from
  45. Strahan, E. Y. (2003). The effects of social anxiety and social skills on academic performance. Personality and Individual Differences, 34, 347–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Swenson, L. M., Nordstrom, A., & Hiester, M. (2008). The role of peer relationships in adjustment to college. Journal of College Student Development, 49(6), 551–567. doi: 10.1353/csd.0.0038.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Tavernier, R., & Willoughby, T. (2013). Bidirectional associations between sleep (quality and duration) and psychosocial functioning across the university years. Developmental Psychology, 50(3), 674–682. doi: 10.1037/a0034258.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Tavernier, R., & Willoughby, T. (2015). A longitudinal examination of the bidirectional association between sleep problems and social ties at university: The mediating role of emotion regulation. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 44, 317–330. doi: 10.1007/s10964-014-0107-x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Tillfors, M., Persson, S., Willén, M., & Burk, W. J. (2012). Prospective links between social anxiety and adolescent peer relations. Journal of Adolescence, 35(5), 1255–1263. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2012.04.008.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Tinto, V. (2006). Research and practice of student retention: What next? Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory and Practice, 8(1), 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Tokuno, K. A. (1986). The early adult transition and friendships: Mechanisms of support. Adolescence, 21(83), 593.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Topham, P., & Moller, N. (2011). New students’ psychological well-being and its relation to first year academic performance in a UK university. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 11(3), 196–203. doi: 10.1080/14733145.2010.519043.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tulbure, B. T., Szentagotai, A., Dobrean, A., & David, D. (2012). Evidence based clinical assessment of child and adolescent social phobia: A critical review of rating scales. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 43(5), 795–820. doi: 10.1007/s10578-012-0297-y.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Tynkkynen, L., Tolvanen, A., & Salmela-Aro, K. (2012). Trajectories of educational expectations from adolescence to young adulthood in Finland. Developmental Psychology, 48(6), 1674–1685. doi: 10.1037/a0027245.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Valiente, C., Swanson, J., & Eisenberg, N. (2012). Linking students’ emotions and academic achievement: When and why emotions matter. Child Development Perspectives, 6(2), 129–135. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-8606.2011.00192.x.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Van Ameringen, M., Mancini, C., & Farvolden, P. (2003). The impact of anxiety disorders on educational achievement. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 17(5), 561–571. doi: 10.1016/S0887-6185(02)00228-1.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. Vernberg, E. M., Abwender, D. A., Ewell, K. K., & Beery, S. H. (1992). Social anxiety and peer relationships in early adolescence: A prospective analysis. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 21(2), 189–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Willoughby, T., & Fortner, A. (2014). At-risk depressive symptoms and alcohol use trajectories in adolescence: A person-centred analysis of co-occurrence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. doi: 10.1007/s10964-014-0106-y.Google Scholar
  59. Woolf, K., Potts, H. W. W., Patel, S., & McManus, C. (2012). The hidden medical school: A longitudinal study of how social networks form, and how they relate to academic performance. Medical Teacher, 34, 577–586. doi: 10.3109/0142159X.2012.669082.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Zhao, X., Lynch, J. G, Jr, & Chen, Q. (2010). Reconsidering Baron and Kenny: Myths and truths about mediation analysis. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(2), 197–206. doi: 10.1086/651257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyBrock UniversitySt. CatharinesCanada

Personalised recommendations