New research published in the Journal of Affective Disorders sought to investigate the relationship between childhood maltreatment and social anxiety. The research team of Jiaqi Liu and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of studies and discovered that those who are victims of childhood maltreatment are more likely to develop social anxiety.
They also found that emotional maltreatment was a stronger predictor of social anxiety compared to physical or sexual abuse. These findings may help clinicians identify individuals who are victims of childhood maltreatment or who have undiagnosed social anxiety.
Child maltreatment or abuse is found worldwide; it has serious mental and physical health consequences, lasting into adulthood. Research has found that social anxiety is not an uncommon result of childhood maltreatment. Individuals with social anxiety are fearful and anxious in social situations, which may result in avoiding many situations and activities they would otherwise like to do.
Although there has been enough research to conclude a relationship between social anxiety and childhood maltreatment, it is still unclear whether there are different types of maltreatment that may be more likely to result in social anxiety.
In order to understand the consequences of different types of childhood maltreatment for the development of social anxiety Liu and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of 29 research articles. After searching academic databases, articles were included in the meta-analysis if they examined the relationship between child maltreatment and social anxiety in non-clinical populations.
A meta-analysis is a statistical method that combines the results of multiple studies to provide a more comprehensive and reliable assessment of the research question at hand. By pooling together data from multiple studies, a meta-analysis increases the sample size and statistical power. This allows for more accurate and reliable estimates of the relationship between childhood maltreatment and social anxiety.
Data analysis revealed a positive relationship between child maltreatment and social anxiety. Specifically, emotional maltreatment had the strongest correlation. The likelihood that an individual would suffer social anxiety after childhood emotional maltreatment was significantly higher than what was found for physical or sexual abuse.
Previous research has revealed a relationship between early-life maltreatment and social anxiety. The finding that it seems to be emotional maltreatment that results in the highest likelihood of developing social anxiety is important for practitioners. Emotional maltreatment can include verbal abuse, emotional neglect, isolating behaviors, or withholding affection. The research team recommends that when clinicians see children or individuals with either social anxiety or a history of maltreatment, assessing them for the other condition would be pertinent.
The meta-analysis also revealed that the younger the participants were, the stronger the relationship between child maltreatment and social anxiety was. In addition, individuals in clinical settings for social anxiety at the time of the research were more likely to report childhood maltreatment.
These findings suggest that the younger you are, the more likely you are to experience symptoms of social anxiety if childhood maltreatment is also present. In addition, it may be that those who experience childhood abuse and experience social anxiety are more likely to seek treatment.
The research team acknowledged some limitations to their study. First, the studies included in the meta-analysis used different methods to measure child maltreatment and social anxiety. The preexisting differences in these measurement tools may have led to some misinterpretation of the data.
Despite these limitations, the meta-analysis provides important insights into the relationship between child maltreatment and social anxiety. The research team suggests that future research should explore other potential causes of the relationship between childhood maltreatment and social anxiety to understand better how they may be connected. Additionally, future studies should include more diverse samples to explore cultural differences’ impact.
The study, “The relationship between child maltreatment and social anxiety: A meta-analysis,” was authored by Jiaqi Liu, Jiaqi Deng, Huiping Zhang and Xinfeng Tang.