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Behav Res Ther. 2000 Jun;38(6):601-10.

Recurrent images and early memories in social phobia.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Warneford Hospital, UK.


A recent model [Clark, D. M. & Wells, A. (1995). A cognitive model of social phobia. In R. Heimberg, M. Liebowitz, D. A. Hope & F. R. Schneier (Eds.), Social phobia: diagnosis, assessment and treatment (pp. 69-93). New York: Guildford Press] suggests that a distorted image of one's public self lies at the heart of social phobia. A previous study of spontaneous imagery [Hackmann, A., Surawy, C. & Clark, D. M. (1998) Seeing yourself through others' eyes: a study of spontaneously occurring images in social phobia. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 26, 3-12] confirmed that patients with social phobia frequently report experiencing negative, distorted, observer-perspective images when in anxiety provoking social situations. In the present study, 22 patients with social phobia were given a semistructured interview which aimed to further explore the nature of social phobic imagery. All participants were able to identify negative spontaneous images that were recurrent in the sense that their content appeared to be relatively stable over time and across different feared social situations. Most recurrent images involved several sensory modalities. Most recurrent images were linked to memories of adverse social events that clustered in time around the onset of the disorder. Taken together, the results suggest that in patients with social phobia, early unpleasant experiences may lead to the development of excessively negative images of their social selves that are repeatedly activated in subsequent social situations and fail to update in the light of subsequent, more favourable experiences. Implications of the findings for the understanding and treatment of social phobia are discussed.

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