A new study finds that social anxiety disorder is intertwined with personality.

At the same time, however, there is great variation in the personalities of people who have social anxiety disorder, according to researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden.

In psychological science, personality is typically described using five well-established dimensions: neuroticism, also known as emotional instability; extraversion, which deals with how outgoing a person is; openness; agreeableness; and conscientiousness. Collectively they are known as the “Big Five.”

And for a long time, researchers have been searching for the connection between personality factors and the risk of developing psychiatric illnesses.

The new study from Uppsala University shows that personality is strongly intertwined with the diagnosis of social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, according to researchers.

The study involved 265 individuals with a social anxiety disorder diagnosis. They filled out comprehensive personality studies, including the revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and the Karolinska Scales of Personality (KSP), according to the researchers. They were also compared with healthy control subjects and Swedish norm data, the researchers added.

The study’s findings showed that individuals with social anxiety disorder had markedly different personality traits, in particular high neuroticism and introversion. In other words, they had a tendency to be emotionally unstable and inward turning, the researchers explained.

At the same time, the study showed that there was a great deal of variation in personality traits among the individuals with social anxious disorder, according to the study’s findings.

The researchers report that three personality groups could be distinguished, based on a cluster analysis of the Big Five personality dimensions.

The first group, with prototypical social anxiety, was both highly anxious and introverted, which may be seen as the typical form of social anxiety disorder, according to the researchers. However, these individuals accounted for only one-third (33 percent) of the total patient sample, according to the study’s findings.

Individuals in the second group, with introvert-conscientious social anxiety, were very introverted but more moderately anxious and also had high levels of conscientiousness, according to the researchers. They accounted for 29 percent of the total patient sample.

Individuals in the third and largest group — at 38 percent — had unstable-open social anxiety disorder, according to the researchers. They were anxious, while having almost normal levels of extraversion, according to the study’s findings. Comparisons with norm data also showed that these individuals scored high on the personality trait openness, the researchers discovered.

“It is possible that the causes of social anxiety differ for the three groups, for example, with regard to abnormalities in brain neurotransmitter levels and genetic factors,” said Professor Tomas Furmark from the Department of Psychology at Uppsala University, who led the study. “It may also be that different treatment efforts are needed for the different types of social anxiety disorder, but further studies are needed to clarify this.”

While additional studies are needed to determine if personality subtypes in social anxiety disorder differ in their cause and treatment, the new study demonstrates there is considerable personality differences in socially anxious individuals, which further underscores that social anxiety disorder is a “multidimensional disorder,” the researchers concluded.

The study was published in PLOS ONE.

Source: Uppsala University