Blushing and Physiological Arousability in social phobia Introduction 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. Hypothesis 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.
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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. Participants 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.
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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. Procedure 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.
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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 the actual embarrassment portion of the test from the norm that was set in the period before the test began (i. e. : sitting alone in the room).
The procedure measured the change in the blood volume within the face. Visual editing of the taped procedures was done to ensure results were accurate. An electrocardiogram m was attached to the participants to record heart rate differences.
Heart rate was calculated instantaneously every 0. 5 seconds. The last physiological test conducted was to test for skin conductance levels. Self-report measures were also done to determine what the participants thought of their level of blushing. Behavior measures were also done throughout the experiment.
When a participant would blush or look away from the interviewer, the interviewer would click a corresponding button on a mouse to record their observations. Discussion As believed, social phobics who had previous complaints of blushing stated an exaggerated report of blushing in all the situations. It was found that the social phobics with prior complaint of blushing did not actually blush more physiologically than did the social phobics with no prior complaint. It was found that the importance or awareness given towards the blushing did not provide a factor in an actual increase of blushing.
This finding did not support one of the hypotheses, and the researchers failed to show symptom specificity for blushing. The researchers speak of recent surgery that is available for persons who are social phobic with complaint of blushing. They state that one should be cautious to such surgery, especially after the conclusion that this experiment yielded. It was also found that self-reporting of ones blushing did not effect the actual amount of blushing one experienced. Only while watching the video did the social phobic group actually blush more than the control group; participants in the blush group, however, reported a higher blushing rate in all the tasks. Throughout the remainder of the tasks, all groups blushed nearly equally.
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The control group did not report their blushing as readily as did the social phobic groups. The researchers conclude that social phobic persons perceive blushing more readily than the controls do. The major hypothesis of finding a symptom to go along with physiological blush activity was not supported by any of the findings in this research. Critique I believe the subject matter of this research is interesting and the evidence it sought to find could be useful. The study was done to see if symptoms could be found that would evoke physiological changes. In this study, blushing was specifically looked at.
The hypotheses were not supported entirely, although some parts of it were. The evidence yielded from the study was not entirely conclusive. I believe that the study was not carried out in the best possible way that it could have been. The study was a bit rushed, most of all the tests being done in a single day.
The researchers state that one reason for inconclusive results could be that the diagnoses of social phobic persons were incorrect. The diagnosis of whether the participants were social phobic impacted the entire study. The diagnosis made was the heart of the study, and all other results were derived from it. If a participant was found to be social phobic and in actuality was not, the remainder of results found from that participant would be entirely invalid. I believe more time and effort should have been put into the diagnoses of the participants, and validity should have been tested by more than just one person. Another problem that I believe hindered the study from finding inconclusive results was the material they used to invoke embarrassment.
Although singing while being videotaped and viewed later along with an audience does cause basis for embarrassment, I believe more serious methods could have been used. The researchers also state that the videotapes of one singing may not have been enough to cause sufficient embarrassment. One possible solution to create sufficient embarrassment in order to induce higher levels of blushing could involve watching sexually explicit videotapes with an audience of the opposite sex. I believe such an extreme measure would yield higher levels of blushing that would better help the study. Yet another limitation within this experiment is in reference to when blushing was measured.
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Blushing was measured at the beginning of each task, and did not account for the change in physiological events during the task. As a task elapses, one might become embarrassed slightly more, and their blushing may increase as time goes on. This limitation was quite a blunder on the part of the researchers. Their method of measuring was not logical at all. Relating to this problem, another one evolves as well. Self-reporting of blushing was based on the entire length of the task, while the researchers observed measurements only took place during the beginning of each task.
The time of measurements were not the same, so it is absurd to think that one may relate the data together if the time of acquiring the data is different. The overall hypothesis and intention of this study, which was to find a symptom that related to the physiological evidence for blushing, was unsupported. Although the intended hypothesis was not supported, another piece of evidence was found that could be useful. The researchers found that heart rate differences played an important role as the physiological variable that reliably distinguished between the social phobics who had prior complaints of blushing to those who do not. It was also found that higher heart rates remained at a high level for a prolonged period of time, rather than just peaking and then returning to its normal rate. The social phobics with prior complaint of blushing showed distinguishable heart rate elevations during their tasks.
I believe that even though the intended reason for the study did not follow through, the found evidence could be helpful for future studies. Researchers in the future studying this matter would no longer have to test heart rate palpitations; they will now know it does vary on the diagnosis of the person. I believe the basis of the study was good, but it was carried out in a hurried state. The participants and time spent on testing were both minimal. I think that the subject was unique and would help others studying this factor because it is one that people are curious about. A physiological change by external stimuli in a person is always a topic of concern and curiosity.
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Surgery has been suggested to those with blushing problems to help lessen the obvious nature of it. As this study and the researchers have suggested, one should be wary of such surgery. They found there is no apparent evidence stating that one with social phobia blushes more than one without. I think this piece of advice in itself shows that this study has had an impact in the scientific world and the human population. Merriam-Webster Dictionary Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Vol.
110, No. 2. (2001) Page 248.