Social anxiety is a debilitating mental illness that affects millions of individuals worldwide. And even though it’s so widespread, it’s still quite a mystery to both victims and medical professionals alike. However, new research has identified a relationship between anxiety and the preoccupation with making mistakes.

Behavioral inhibition is a temperament that is considered to be a risk factor for developing social anxiety later in life. So, researchers set out to see if toddlers who exhibited behavioral inhibition at the ages of two and 3 would then develop social anxiety.

Their study, published in December of last year, observed these 107 children, when they had reached the age of 12. By using an electroencephalogram, researchers monitored the electrical brain activity of these children while they completed a psychological test, known as the flanker test.

The children performed this test twice – once when they were told that they were being observed. And then a second time, when they were told that they were not under observation.

Researchers found that behavioral inhibition – the temperament which had been observed when the children were toddlers – as well as their current social anxiety, were both linked to a hypersensitivity toward making mistakes when under observation.

Study author, George Buzzell, from the University of Maryland, explained that “one of the mechanisms through which social anxiety arises is an excessive focus on one’s self, and one’s perceived mistakes, in social situations. For individuals with social anxiety, this excessive focus on one’s perceived mistakes distracts/detracts from the ongoing social interaction.”

This research suggests that social anxiety may largely be due to the fact that individuals fear not only making mistakes, but fear being seen while making these errors.

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