Social avoidance goals have been linked to negative social outcomes and may contribute to the social impairment experienced by socially anxious individuals. In this study, we examined whether engaging in acts of kindness, a technique designed to increase happiness, decreases social avoidance goals in socially anxious participants and whether social anxiety reduction and hedonic enhancement (i.e., increased positive affect) mediate this effect. Socially anxious undergraduates were randomly assigned to three conditions: performing acts of kindness (AK; N = 38); exposure only (EO; N = 41); and recording life details (LD; N = 36), a neutral control condition. Participants engaged in these activities for 4 weeks. AK resulted in the greatest decrease in social avoidance goals by post-intervention. EO also reduced avoidance goals over time relative to LD. The effect of task condition on avoidance goals over time was fully mediated by social anxiety reduction over time. Neither AK nor EO increased positive affect. Implications for social anxiety treatment are discussed.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Although Alden and Trew (2013) found that acts of kindness did not affect social approach goals or negative affect and no significant effects were anticipated, these variables were assessed by the SGQ and the I-PANAS-SF and were examined to confirm a lack of group differences. These results are briefly described in a footnote below.
Consistent with this, an ANCOVA revealed no significant group differences in the SIAS-S at post-intervention, controlling for pre-intervention SIAS-S, F(2, 111) = 2.45, p = .09, Cohen’s f = 0.21.
Correlations between the two online forms administered each week ranged from .60 to .89 across the full set of measures (M = .72, SD = 0.09).
The pattern of results was identical when these participants were included in the analyses (i.e., carrying their initial session scores over to the return session for the ANCOVAs). One participant was excluded from the latent trajectory and mediation analyses as they had completed no online forms.
There were no significant gender differences in kindness ratings in the AK, χ 2(1, n = 832) = 0.13, p = .71, or LD groups, χ 2(1, n = 1061) = 0.21, p = .64. Men (M = .13, SD = 0.28) reported more kind acts relative to women (M = .04, SD = 0.05) in the EO group, χ 2(1, n = 797) = 24.57, p < .001. There were also no significant gender differences in social activity ratings in the AK group, χ 2(1, n = 837) = 2.60, p = .11. Women reported a higher proportion of social activities in the EO (M = .97, SD = 0.05), χ 2(1, n = 795) = 15.95, p < .001, and LD (M = .35, SD = 0.13), χ 2(1, n = 1061) = 5.72, p = .02, groups relative to men (M = .92, SD = 0.10 and M = .28, SD = 0.33, respectively).
Consistent with Alden and Trew (2013), no significant group differences were observed in the ANCOVAs for SGQ-approach or NA. Similarly no group differences were observed on initial response or rate of change over time in SGQ-approach or NA in the latent trajectory analyses. Full results available upon request.
When gender was added to each model, gender did not affect SGQ-avoidance, F(1, 108) = 1.62, p = .21, DSA, F(1, 108) = 1.02, p = .32, or PA, F(1, 108) = 0.06, p = .81, nor did it interact with task condition in the models for SGQ-avoidance, F(2, 108) = 1.00, p = .37, DSA, F(2, 108) = 0.30, p = .74, or PA, F(2, 108) = 1.28, p = .28.
Residual correlations were added between the error terms for DSA and SGQ-avoidance at week 2 and at week 3 to improve model fit. These correlations likely reflect shared method variance and are not included in Fig. 2.
Aderka, I. M., Hofmann, S. G., Nickerson, A., Hermesh, H., Gilboa-Schechtman, E., & Marom, S. (2012). Functional impairment in social anxiety disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 26, 393–400. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2012.01.003.
Alden, L. E., & Bieling, P. (1998). Interpersonal consequences of the pursuit of safety. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 36, 53–64. doi:10.1016/S0005-7967(97)00072-7.
Alden, L. E., & Trew, J. L. (2013). If it makes you happy: Engaging in kind acts increases positive affect in socially anxious individuals. Emotion, 13, 64–75. doi:10.1037/a0027761.
Alexander, R. A., & Govern, D. M. (1994). A new and simpler approximation for ANOVA under variance heterogeneity. Journal of Educational and Behavioral Statistics, 19, 91–101. doi:10.3102/10769986019002091.
Bentler, P. M. (2004). EQS structural equations program manual. Encino, CA: Multivariate Software Inc.
Bhullar, N., Schutte, N. S., & Malouff, J. M. (2011). Writing about satisfaction processes increases well-being. Individual Differences Research, 9, 22–32.
Biesanz, J. C., Falk, C. F., & Savalei, V. (2010). Assessing mediational models: Testing and interval estimation for indirect effects. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 45, 661–701. doi:10.1080/00273171.2010.498292.
Bjornebekk, G. (2007). Motivation and distance to goal time: Their effect on cognitive and affective manifestations (unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Norway, Oslo.
Bjornebekk, G. (2008). Positive affect and negative affect as modulators of cognition and motivation: The rediscovery of affect in achievement goal theory. Scandanavian Journal of Educational Research, 52, 153–170. doi:10.1080/00313830801915788.
Bjornebekk, G. (2009). Psychometric properties of the scores on the behavioral inhibition and activation scales in a sample of Norwegian children. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 69, 636–654.
Buchanan, K. E., & Bardi, A. (2010). Acts of kindness and acts of novelty affect life satisfaction. The Journal of Social Psychology, 150, 235–237. doi:10.1080/00224540903365554.
Cheong, J., MacKinnon, D. P., & Khoo, S. T. (2003). Investigation of mediational processes using parallel process latent growth curve modeling. Structural Equation Modeling, 10, 238–262. doi:10.1207/S15328007SEM1002_5.
Clark, D. M., & Wells, A. (1995). A cognitive model of social phobia. In R. G. Heimberg, M. R. Liebowitz, D. A. Hope, & F. R. Schneier (Eds.), Social phobia: Diagnosis, assessment, and treatment (pp. 69–93). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Davila, J., & Beck, J. G. (2002). Is social anxiety associated with impairment in close relationships? A preliminary investigation. Behavior Therapy, 33, 427–446. doi:10.1016/S0005-7894(02)80037-5.
Eisen, A. R., Rapee, R. M., & Barlow, D. H. (1990). The effects of breathing rate and pCO2 levels on relaxation and anxiety in a non-clinical population. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 4, 183–190. doi:10.1016/0887-6185(90)90010-7.
Elliot, A. J. (2006). The hierarchical model of approach-avoidance motivation. Motivation and Emotion, 30, 111–116. doi:10.1007/s11031-006-9028-7.
Elliot, A. J., Gable, S. L., & Mapes, R. R. (2006). Approach and avoidance motivation in the social domain. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 378–391. doi:10.1177/0146167205282153.
Feske, U., & Chambless, D. L. (1995). Cognitive behavioral versus exposure only treatment for social phobia: A meta-analysis. Behavior Therapy, 26, 695–720. doi:10.1016/S0005-7894(05)80040-1.
Fink, M., Akimova, E., Spindelegger, C., Hahn, A., Lanzenberger, R., & Kasper, S. (2009). Social anxiety disorder: Epidemiology, biology and treatment. Psychiatria Danubina, 21, 533–542.
Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of General Psychology, 2, 300–319. doi:10.1037/1089-26188.8.131.520.
Gable, S. L. (2006). Approach and avoidance social motives and goals. Journal of Personality, 74, 175–222. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2005.00373.x.
Gable, S. L., & Gosnell, C. L. (2013). Approach and avoidance behavior in interpersonal relationships. Emotion Review, 5, 269–274. doi:10.1177/1754073913477513.
Gould, R. A., Buckminster, S., Pollack, M. H., Otto, M. W., & Yap, L. (1997). Cognitive-behavioral and pharmacological treatment for social phobia: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 4, 291–306.
Hawthorne, G., & Elliott, P. (2005). Imputing cross-sectional missing data: Comparison of common techniques. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 39, 583–590. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1614.2005.01630.x.
Heerey, E. A., & Kring, A. M. (2007). Interpersonal consequences of social anxiety. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 116, 125–134. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.116.1.125.
Heimberg, R. G., Mueller, G. P., Holt, C. S., Hope, D. A., & Liebowitz, M. R. (1992). Assessment of anxiety in social interaction and being observed by others: The Social Interaction Anxiety Scale and the Social Phobia Scale. Behavior Therapy, 23, 53–73. doi:10.1016/S0005-7894(05)80308-9.
Helgeson, V. S., & Palladino, D. K. (2012). Agentic and communal traits and health: Adolescents with and without diabetes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 415–428. doi:10.1177/0146167211427149.
Holtforth, M. G., Bents, H., Mauler, B., & Grawe, K. (2006). Interpersonal distress as a mediator between avoidance goals and goal satisfaction in psychotherapy inpatients. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 13, 172–182. doi:10.1002/cpp.486.
Hu, L., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cutoff criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis: Conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling, 6, 1–55. doi:10.1080/10705519909540118.
Johnstone, K. A., & Page, A. C. (2004). Attention to phobic stimuli during exposure: The effect of distraction on anxiety reduction, self-efficacy and perceived control. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 42, 249–275. doi:10.1016/S0005-7967(03)00137-2.
Kashdan, T. B., & Steger, M. F. (2006). Expanding the topography of social anxiety: An experience-sampling assessment of positive emotions, positive events, and emotion suppression. Psychological Science, 17, 120–128. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01674.x.
Kurtz, J. L., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). Toward a durable happiness. In S. J. Lopez (Ed.), Positive psychology: Exploring the best in people (Vol. 4, pp. 21–36)., Pursuing human flourishing Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers/Greenwood Publishing Group.
Levinson, C. A., Rodebaugh, T. L., & Frye, T. (2011). An examination of the factor, convergent, and discriminant validity of the behavioral inhibition system and behavioral activation system scales. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 33, 87–100.
Lyubomirsky, S., & Della Porta, M. D. (2010). Boosting happiness, buttressing resilience: Results from cognitive and behavioral interventions. In J. W. Reich, A. J. Zautra, & J. S. Hall (Eds.), Handbook of adult resilience (pp. 450–464). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Lyubomirsky, S., & Dickerhoof, R. (2010). A construal approach to increasing happiness. In J. E. Maddux & J. P. Tangney (Eds.), Social psychological foundations of clinical psychology (pp. 229–244). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9, 111–131. doi:10.1037/1089-26184.108.40.206.
Mattick, R. P., & Clarke, J. C. (1998). Development and validation of measures of social phobia scrutiny fear and social interaction anxiety. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 36, 455–470. doi:10.1016/S0005-7967(97)10031-6.
McNulty, J. K., & Fincham, F. D. (2012). Beyond positive psychology? Toward a contextual view of psychological processes and well-being. American Psychologist, 67, 101–110. doi:10.1037/a0024572.
Meleshko, K. G. A., & Alden, L. E. (1993). Anxiety and self-disclosure: Toward a motivational model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 1000–1009. doi:10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.110.
Muthén, B. O., & Curran, P. J. (1997). General longitudinal modeling of individual differences in experimental designs: A latent variable framework for analysis and power estimation. Psychological Methods, 2, 371–402. doi:10.1037/1082-989X.2.4.371.
Nikitin, J., & Freund, A. M. (2010). When wanting and fearing go together: The effect of co-occurring social approach and avoidance motivation on behavior, affect, and cognition. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 783–804.
Otake, K., Shimai, S., Tanaka-Matsumi, J., Otsui, K., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2006). Happy people become happier through kindness: A counting kindnesses intervention. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 361–375. doi:10.1007/s10902-005-3650-z.
Rapee, R. M., & Heimberg, R. G. (1997). A cognitive-behavioral model of anxiety in social phobia. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 35, 741–756.
Rodebaugh, T. L. (2009). Social phobia and perceived friendship quality. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 23, 872–878. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2009.05.001.
Rodebaugh, T. L., Woods, C. M., & Heimberg, R. G. (2007). The reverse of social anxiety is not always the opposite: The reverse-scored items of the social interaction anxiety scale do not belong. Behavior Therapy, 38, 192–206. doi:10.1016/j.beth.2006.08.001.
Rodebaugh, T. L., Woods, C. M., Heimberg, R. G., Liebowitz, M. R., & Schneier, F. R. (2006). The factor structure and screening utility of the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale. Psychological Assessment, 18, 231–237. doi:10.1037/1040-3518.104.22.168.
Ryan, A. M., & Shim, S. S. (2006). Social achievement goals: The nature and consequences of different orientations toward social competence. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 1246–1263. doi:10.1177/0146167206289345.
Ryan, A. M., & Shim, S. S. (2008). An exploration of young adolescents’ social achievement goals and social adjustment in middle school. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 672–687. doi:10.1037/0022-0622.214.171.1242.
Seaman, M. A., Levin, J. R., & Serlin, R. C. (1991). New developments in pairwise multiple comparisons: Some powerful and practicable procedures. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 577–586. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.110.3.577.
Selig, J. P., & Preacher, K. J. (2009). Mediation models for longitudinal data in developmental research. Research in Human Development, 6, 144–164. doi:10.1080/15427600902911247.
Shrive, F. M., Stuart, H., Quan, H., & Ghali, W. A. (2006). Dealing with missing data in a multi-question depression scale: A comparison of imputation methods. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 6, 57–67. doi:10.1186/1471-2288-6-57.
Sin, N. L., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2009). Enhancing well-being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions: A practice-friendly meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65, 467–487. doi:10.1002/jclp.20593.
Sparrevohn, R. M., & Rapee, R. M. (2009). Self-disclosure, emotional expression and intimacy within romantic relationships of people with social phobia. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 47, 1074–1078. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2009.07.016.
Taylor, C. T., & Alden, L. E. (2011). To see ourselves as others see us: An experimental integration of the intra and interpersonal consequences of self-protection in social anxiety disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 120, 129–141. doi:10.1037/a0022127.
Thompson, E. R. (2007). Development and validation of an internationally reliable short-form of the positive and negative affect schedule (PANAS). Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 38, 227–242. doi:10.1177/0022022106297301.
Trew, J. L., & Alden, L. E. (2012). Positive affect predicts avoidance goals in social interaction anxiety: Testing a hierarchical model of social goals. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 41, 174–183. doi:10.1080/16506073.2012.663402.
Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 1063–1070. doi:10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1993.
West, S. G., Biesanz, J. C., & Kwok, O. M. (2004). Within-subject and longitudinal experiments: Design and analysis issues. In C. Sansone, C. C. Morf, & A. T. Panter (Eds.), The Sage handbook of methods in social psychology (pp. 287–312). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Yuan, K. H., & Bentler, P. M. (2000). Three likelihood-based methods for mean and covariance structure analysis with nonnormal missing data. Sociological Methodology, 30, 165–200. doi:10.1111/0081-1750.00078.
This manuscript includes data from the first author’s doctoral dissertation. This research was supported by IODE Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the University of British Columbia. The authors would like to thank Sara Yuen, Elisa Choi, Carmen Gee, Brett Sinclair, Rachelle Pullmer, Angela Cheung, Uyoyouoghene Eto, Donya Samadi, Janet Jung, Lucinda Xin, Ingrid Tsang, Anna Bourak, Dawn Lee, Dedy Wong, Annie Tang, and Jade McGregor for their assistance with data collection and preparation, Dr. Rebecca Cobb for her feedback on an earlier draft of this manuscript, and Morgan Donahue, Dorianna Dickson, and Roza Mohammadi for their assistance with data coding.
Conflict of interest
The authors have no potential conflicts of interest to disclose.
About this article
Cite this article
Trew, J.L., Alden, L.E. Kindness reduces avoidance goals in socially anxious individuals. Motiv Emot 39, 892–907 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-015-9499-5
- Social anxiety
- Social goals