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Social Anxiety Disorder Causes: What Causes Social Phobia?

Social anxiety causes may be related humiliating experiences in childhood, whereas social phobia causes may be genetic, chemical and brain structure related.

Social anxiety disorder causes are not fully known or understood but research is ongoing. Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is a serious mental illness involving elevated levels of anxiety in social or performance situations. Social anxiety can prevent people from interacting with others and living full lives.

Theories about social anxiety causes have been suggested based on the way in which social phobia reacts to medication when treated. Physiological and psychological factors contribute to the causes of social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety not reaching the threshold of social anxiety disorder may be more related to life events and temperament.

Social Anxiety Causes

Social anxiety is the stress and anxiety felt in social situations. Some people may call this "shyness," although social anxiety may produce more physical and psychological effects than a lesser case of shyness. Social anxiety is caused by an excessive worry about humiliation.

Social anxiety may cause:1

  • Blushing, inability to make eye contact
  • Sweating; cold, clammy hands
  • Trembling or shaking

and other social phobia symptoms listed here.

The causes of social anxiety may be related to specifically humiliating social experiences, particularly in childhood. These causes of social anxiety in childhood may be:

  • Bullying
  • Teasing
  • Rejection
  • Ridicule

Being socially withdrawn or having experienced abuse may also be causes of social anxiety.

Parental behavior may be another cause of social anxiety. When the child sees the parent experiencing social anxiety, they mirror that behavior. Male parental figures are particularly influential in this regard. Treatment for social phobia during childhood may prevent social anxiety symptoms as an adult.


Social Phobia Causes

Because social phobia (aka social anxiety disorder) is a more severe form of social anxiety that impacts day-to-day living, it's thought to be rooted in genetics, brain chemistry, brain structure and childhood experiences similar to those seen in social anxiety in general.

The following are thought to be social phobia causes:2

  • Genetics – anxiety disorders tend to run in families, however it is unknown how much of this is learned behavior rather than inherited traits.
  • Brain chemistry – because social anxiety disorder responds positively to antidepressants, it's thought a lack of serotonin, a brain chemical called a neurotransmitter, may play a role in causing social anxiety disorder.
  • Brain structure – part of the brain known as the amygdala is implicated in controlling fear response. Those with social anxiety disorder may have an overactive amygdala. Additionally, premature babies may be at increased risk for developing social anxiety disorder due to a lack of development in parts of the brain.

article references


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next: Social Anxiety Treatment: Social Phobia Treatment That Works
~ all articles on social anxiety disorder
~ all articles on anxiety-panic

Last Updated: 29 June 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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