Social anxiety is thought to be maintained by habitual safety behaviors, actions undertaken to avoid some feared outcome. Safety behaviors may act as a risk factor for the persistence of social anxiety symptoms after treatment completion, though this has not been investigated. We examined the impact of posttreatment safety behavior frequency on subsequent social anxiety symptoms at 3-month follow-up after two non-behavioral digital treatments for social anxiety.
Participants (N = 64) with social anxiety disorder were randomized to eight sessions of interpretation bias modification or progressive muscle relaxation. A series of hierarchical multiple regressions were run to examine the association between posttreatment safety behavior frequency and social anxiety symptoms at follow-up, controlling for symptoms at posttreatment.
Safety behavior frequency at posttreatment significantly predicted future social anxiety symptoms and fear of negative evaluation at follow-up when covarying for posttreatment symptoms as well as negative social interpretation bias.
This study highlights the potential importance of considering safety behaviors as a social anxiety maintenance factor following treatment.