Associate Professor of Psychology Julie Newman Kingery recently had an article accepted for publication by the journal Anxiety, Stress, and Coping. The article is titled, “A model-based cluster analysis of social experiences in clinically anxious youth: links to emotional functioning.” She worked on the research project with colleagues from the University of Georgia. According to the researchers, although previous studies have examined links between peer/emotional functioning and symptoms of anxiety with non-clinical samples, very few studies have looked closely at the social and emotional functioning of youth who meet criteria for an anxiety disorder.
Kingery and her colleagues looked at various social problems reported by parents and teachers, as well as children’s report of victimization by peers, and how often they received positive behavior from peers. They also asked children to complete a questionnaire gauging feelings of loneliness and social isolation.
Additionally, they assessed children’s report of positive and negative emotions, their tendency to keep feelings to themselves, and different aspects of children’s ability to regulate their emotions. This was done via a questionnaire given to parents and teachers, whereas the other aspects of emotional functioning were assessed using a self-report by the child.
While they didn’t have a specific hypothesis about the social and emotional experiences of the clinically anxious youth, Kingery and her colleagues predicted that if the child, parent and teacher reports for a particular child were similar, then the child would most likely have a more severe anxiety disorder and poorer emotional functioning. However, the results were surprising.
Researchers identified and labeled clusters, or groups of clinically anxious youth with similar social/emotional functioning. Those who were “average functioning” appeared to be functioning relatively well on the social variables and child, parent and teacher were in agreement about this. They also had better scores in terms of emotional functioning and had fewer anxiety diagnoses overall than children in the “unaware” group.
The “unaware” group had high reports of social problems according to parents and teachers, but average scores on the child self-report measures. This could indicate that the children appeared to be largely unaware of the social difficulties they were experiencing, they could have been aware of them and just did not report them in this study, or they minimized the difficulties they were having.
The third group or cluster was named “victimized and lonely,” as these children had the highest levels of self-reported loneliness and peer victimization but the parent and teacher reports for these youth fell in the average range.
“This is concerning and seems to show that these youth are experiencing negative peer experiences and social distress, but the adults around them may be largely unaware of these difficulties, and likely won’t realize that they need help,” says Kingery.
“The results of this study show that the social and emotional experiences of clinically anxious youth are actually quite varied. Therefore, it could be beneficial for professionals who work with youth in clinic or school settings to complete a detailed assessment of not only the anxiety symptoms that these youth are experiencing, but also potential social difficulties and their emotion regulation skills. Such information would allow clinicians to better tailor treatment to the individual child.”