How Does Social Anxiety Affect the Brain?


Excerpt from PyschCentral

“Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is a form of anxiety that causes intense fear and embarrassment in social situations.

For example, it’s common to feel slightly nervous when meeting new people or speaking in public. People with social anxiety disorder can experience a paralyzing fear that makes it hard for them to live everyday life.

We now know that social anxiety disorder affects more than just relationships, work, and other daily activities — it also affects the brain.

Researchers have found that critical areas in the brains of socially anxious people function differently. These areas mainly involve processing emotion, danger, and social cues.

What causes social anxiety?

It’s still not clear exactly what causes social anxiety. Research from 2022 suggests that genetic and environmental influences cause social anxiety, such as upbringing and life experiences.

Research has revealed certain areas of the brain that play a role in fear and anxiety, and we know that genetics affects their function. But researchers don’t yet know which specific genes those are.

Children of controlling, overprotective, or intrusive parents are more likely to develop a social anxiety disorder.

Stressful life events such as sexual or emotional abuse also increase the risk of developing the disorder.

The hope is that by studying how the brain is affected by social anxiety, researchers can develop more effective treatments for the disorder.”

Continued in response



4 responses to this post.

  1. Areas of the brain affected by social anxiety
    Differences in five critical brain areas may explain how social anxiety impacts how people think and act. Let’s take a closer look.


    The amygdala is the part of the brain that deals with emotions, especially fear, anxiety, and aggression. It controls the “fight, flight, freeze, or fawn” response when faced with a threat. It’s not surprising then that the amygdala plays a central role in social anxiety.

    So how is the amygdala different in people with social anxiety?

    The most crucial difference is that the amygdala is often overactive in response to social interactions. For example, when socially anxious people are shown fearful faces, their amygdala lights upTrusted Source — a sign of a heightened fear response.

    Oxytocin, a chemical messenger in the brain that decreases anxiety, may have something to do with this.

    According to a 2016 studyTrusted Source, when people with social anxiety were given oxytocin, their amygdalas were no longer as active in response to angry or fearful faces. This suggests oxytocin levels are lower in socially anxious people.

    Research from 2020Trusted Source notes that the amygdala is slightly larger in people with social anxiety. Even more interesting, the more severe anxiety symptoms, the larger the amygdala is.

    This shows that the brains of socially anxious people have adapted to spending more time and energy processing threats and emotions.

    Prefrontal cortex

    The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is involved in many aspects of our behavior, including planning, decision-making, and self-control.

    In contrast to the amygdala, the PFC is generally underactiveTrusted Source and smallerTrusted Source in those with social anxiety.

    There are also significant differences in how the PFC communicates with other brain areas. Typically, the PFC sends signals to the amygdala to keep it from becoming too active during routine social interactions.

    But this connection doesn’t work well in people with social anxiety disorder.

    Instead of decreasing amygdala activity, the PFC instead increases amygdala activity. This causes fear and anxiety.

    The PFC also controls what your brain pays attention to. In socially anxious people, the PFC tends to be more active in response to social threats.

    For example, a 2016 studyTrusted Source suggests that people with social anxiety will focus on angry faces more closely and have a more challenging time shifting their attention away from them.

    Anterior cingulate cortex

    The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) plays a vital role in regulating emotions. It’s especially involved in processing social rejection and coping with stress due to social interactions.

    The ACC becomes overactive in socially anxious peopleTrusted Source when they look at faces with negative facial expressions. This supports 2019 research showing that people with taijin-kyofusho, a subtype of social anxiety, are overly sensitive to how others perceive them.

    The ACC also helps the prefrontal cortex communicate with the amygdala. However, in people with social anxiety, this channel is disrupted. This makes it harder for them to control their emotions and emotional behavior.

    These findings help explain why socially anxious people tend to exaggerate the effects of a stressful social situation and place so much importance on social rejection.

    Fusiform gyrus

    The fusiform gyrus is a part of the brain that is involved in processing faces and determining the emotional state of others. As such, it plays a crucial role in social interactions.

    2021 researchTrusted Source found fusiform gyrus can be either overactive or underactive in people with social anxiety disorder, depending on the coping strategies that person has developed.

    If a person with social anxiety has made it a habit to avoid looking at faces, then the fusiform gyrus will be less active.

    But if the person tends to overly focus on faces, the fusiform gyrus will be much more active than usual. This may be why socially anxious people view emotionally neutral faces as angryTrusted Source.


    The hippocampus is actively involved in learning and memory. Research suggests it may also play an essential role in social anxiety.

    Some evidence shows that social anxiety may be a behavior pattern that people learn after having several bad social interactions. Over time, they become used to acting a certain way and expect people to react negatively to them.

    According to 2016 researchTrusted Source, when socially anxious people see faces of people they haven’t seen before, their hippocampus goes into overdrive. When they are repeatedly shown these faces, they never learn to become familiar as a person without anxiety does.

    Instead, they continue to identify the faces as threatening. This explains why people with social anxiety have a much harder time meeting new people.

    What happens in the body during social anxiety?
    In addition to changes in the brain, many changes occur in the body when someone experiences social anxiety. These changes include:

    excessive sweating
    increased heart rate
    muscle tension and rigid posture
    nausea and stomach pain
    shortness of breath
    There are also increases in stress hormonesTrusted Source like cortisol and adrenaline.

  2. Posted by rudid96 on September 12, 2022 at 10:47 pm

    The dissemination of this kind of information is one of the reasons this blog is so important. It’s not just a place to vent. We all suffer from something. Understanding the underpinnings, I believe, is where the sufferer may begin to find an opening for change.

    The AA line in the Serenity Prayer “… learning to change what we can, and learning to know the difference” comes to mind.
    The past can’t be erased, but education like here, in this blog, and a healthy dose of humility, are helping me make inroads to creating a more satisfying life.

  3. Thanks for the kudos

    Most of my healing has been for knowledge, awareness and finally action

  4. […] How Does Social Anxiety Affect the Brain? […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: