3 Personality Types Linked To Social Anxiety, According To Research
Have you ever walked into a room full of new people and felt irrationally nervous? Do you worry about being judged by other people to the point of feeling inferior, self-conscious, embarrassed, humiliated, and even depressed? Do you frequently cancel plans with friends because of this anxiety? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, you may be experiencing social anxiety.
Almost everyone experiences some level of stress when meeting new people, but psychologists have recently become interested in whether certain personality traits are tied to social anxiety. And according to a new study published in the Journal of Psychology, the answer is yes: Some personality traits do tend to make you more likely to be socially anxious.
The new study, titled Personality Trait Interactions in Risk for and Protection Against Social Anxiety Symptoms1, looked at 135 people between the ages of 18 and 50, 80 percent of which were women. Each person reported their personality traits at the beginning of the study, then psychologists also recorded their levels of social anxiety after a month of observation.
Personality types linked to social anxiety.
Researchers found three personality trait combinations affected social anxiety:
- Neuroticism predicted heightened levels of social anxiety. People who are neurotic generally respond poorly to stressors; they're often moody and regularly experience intense feelings like fear, worry, frustration, loneliness, and—ding, ding, ding!—anxiety. It makes sense that increased levels of social interaction, which comes with its share of emotional stimuli, would make a neurotic person more likely to experience anxiety.
- People who were highly open and highly extroverted were less likely to be socially anxious. Lead study author Patryk Lakuta noted that being extroverted appears to prevent social anxiety—but only when the person is also quite open to new experiences and people. Past research has shown extroverts experience more positive outcomes when they interact with other people, which may make them less socially anxious over the long term because experience has taught them there’s little to worry about in group settings.
- People who were highly extroverted but not very open experienced the highest levels of social anxiety. Contrary to what you might think, not all extroverts are totally free from social anxiety. Lakuta considers this finding to be proof that social anxiety is fairly reliant on openness. In other words, the more open you are to new people and new situations, the less socially anxious you will probably be. But the less open you are, the more stressed and threatened you'll probably feel in social situations—no matter how extroverted you might or might not be.
"Openness may provoke engaging in novel situations (including social ones) and being more receptive to new input from other people and surroundings," Lakuta wrote, noting that extroversion and openness together appear to be a perfect cocktail for avoiding social anxiety. But when you lose one or the other, the outcomes aren't as positive.
What can we do with this information?
The good news is that personality traits are not set in stone. Past research shows we can become more open and agreeable over time.
If you're working on being more open-minded—the key ingredient to offsetting social anxiety, according to these findings—consider getting yourself to more events oriented around learning, experiencing new things, and getting out of your comfort zone. If you're feeling stuck, life coach Alli Stark suggests talking to close friends and family members about what you're going through and what kind of growth you're trying to achieve.
"Create intentional space for both of you to think about an area of your life where you feel stuck," Stark writes. "When we allow ourselves to share and be vulnerable with people we trust, we create movement—we open up the door to new possibilities."
Jenni Gritters is a health journalist and certified yoga teacher from Seattle, WA. She has a degree in psychology from Bucknell University and a master's degree in journalism from Boston University. She received her yoga teaching certification with Sendatsu Evolution. Gritters covers the science of healthy living, focusing on the newest scientific research about living a satisfying life. She runs a weekly column for Medium’s health magazine Elemental called "The Health Diaries", and she previously worked as an editor at The New York Times' product review site Wirecutter where she edited longform health, fitness, travel, and outdoors content.