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Blushing And Physiological Arousability In Social Phobia

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Blushing and Physiological Arousability in Social Phobia


This paper will provide a critique of the article titled "Blushing and Physiological Arousability in Social Phobia," (Gerlach et al., 2001) located in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology (Vol. 110, No. 2). Blushing is defined as: "to become red in the face especially from shame or embarrassment. " It is believed that blushing involves physiological, behavioral, and cognitive factors which react with one another. The actual cause of one blushing is physiological; the amount of blood in one's face increases causing the amplification of a red hue in the blush region. The blush region is defined to be the face, forehead, ears, neck, and sometimes the upper part of the chest. The DSM-IV defines social phobia as marked and persistent fear of social or performance situations in which embarrassment may occur. Since blushing occurs when one is embarrassed, the researchers hoped to find a link between blushing and the reasons of in social phobic persons.


The researches hypothesized that persons with social phobia who complain of blushing would show more blushing as opposed to those who are social phobic without complaints of blushing or the controls. The researches came to this hypothesis because it is believed that if one is aware of their uncontrollable blushing, they have an increased awareness cognitively towards their blushing problem. In turn, one may exaggerate the amount of blushing they are experiencing which in turn will increase the actual physiological process heightening the blush level. Also, because the relation between heart rate and phobic anxiety exists, it was also hypothesized there would be a difference in heart rate between the subgroups. The researchers believe that heart rate reliably shows the amount of phobic anxiety one is enduring. Therefore, it is believed that the participants who complain of blushing will also have a higher heart rate compared to the other two subgroups.


The study consisted of 44 participants (54% female, 46% male). The mean age of the participants of all three subgroups was 39.9 years of age. The mean years of education among the participants were 16.23 years. The participants all originated within Silicon Valley and the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area in California. All were highly educated and economically sound. The DMS-IV was used to determine the diagnosis and place the participants in the subgroups to which they fit best. All the interviews were audio taped, and an independent rater for accuracy evaluated fifteen of them. The reliability from the rater was excellent, providing a reliability coefficient of 1.00. The participants were also interviewed on whether blushing has ever been a problem for them or if it has ever affected an aspect in their lives at all. If they answered yes to any of those questions, they were placed within the subgroup of persons with previous complaint of blushing. Another interview was conducted to determine which of the participants would be categorized as possessing generalized social phobia. All of the participants, aside from the control group, were asked questions relating to anxiety and distress. The interviewer was to determine whether their anxiety and distress levels met a moderate level based on situations within the AIDS-IV questionnaire. The interviewer then made a decision in regard to their possible diagnosis of generalized social phobia. Twenty-two of the 30 experimental participants were diagnosed with generalized social phobia.


One the first day of actual testing, participants were attached with electrodes and sensors to record physiological factors. A baseline recording was created for each participant. They then sang a song, either "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" or "This Old Man", alone in a room. The participants were provided with a text of the song to reduce embarrassment during singing. This event was videotaped, and participants were told before the taping that they would later view it with a small audience. A three-minute tape of the participant singing was created for each of them.

After the taping of the videos were completed, the tests began on physiological factors again. The first part of the series of tests conducted was called the "video test." In this test, the participant was placed in a room solitarily for three minutes. The participant then watched the tape of himself singing along with two other people. The tape comprised of the initial three minutes showing an empty chair, and then the next three minutes showing the participant singing. After this test was completed, a "social interaction" test was conducted. In this test, the participant was again placed in a room solitarily for three minutes, and then waited with a partner of the opposite sex for a cue to begin speaking. After their silent wait, they were instructed to hold a conversation for five minutes about any subject they can come up with, excluding any topics that involved the experiment, including being forced to hold the conversation. The participants had to maintain the conversation for the five-minute period. After this test was completed, a "talk test" was conducted. Participants were told to prepare two of the five topics they were given for a discussion. They were able to take notes, but the notes were taken away later and they were placed in a room in solitude for three minutes. After their solitary wait, their audience of two persons entered the room, and they all sat there quietly for another three minutes. After the three minutes had elapsed, the participant was given back his notes and was told to begin his speech. This concluded the three tests for embarrassment. The last part of the test required the participants to pedal a bicycle ergo meter at workloads of 50, 75, and 100 W for four minutes each. This test of physical fitness was conducted because less physical fitness has been reported for people with anxiety and could contribute to their higher heart rates during anxiety provocations. All of the participants completed this test.

During all of the previous tests, many different measures were being calculated. Physiologically, blushing was measured by a Model 1020 Photoplethysmograph. The device worked by means of an infrared probe that was placed approximately 5 cm below the right eye. It calculated the difference in blushing during



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