Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Program Name/Specialization

Social Psychology


Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Pamela Sadler

Advisor Role

Doctoral Supervisor

Second Advisor

Erik Woody

Advisor Role

Doctoral Supervisor


Interpersonal theory suggests that the most important variations in people’s interpersonal behaviours can be captured by just two major constructs, dominance and affiliation. Despite the admirable parsimony of interpersonal theory, in the current thesis, we argue that a key influencing variable has been absent from discussions of interpersonal behaviour and dynamics. People’s levels of social anxiety during interactions has been acknowledged as an influencing factor within the interpersonal space, yet a systematic investigation of its impact on behaviours and interpersonal processes has been sparse. Thus, in the current work we consider the impact of people’s social anxiety levels during an interaction on their own interpersonal behaviours, the reactions received from interaction partners, interpersonal processes (e.g., interpersonal complementarity and anxiety contagion) and relationship and task outcomes. We conducted three studies (a hypothetical scenario study (N = 160), a confederate study (N = 95), and a dyad study (N = 113 dyads)), and the methodologies of our studies were scaffolded in such a way that allowed for stronger tests of our hypotheses with each subsequent study. Although results were somewhat disparate across our studies, several interesting results emerged. We found that increased social anxiety in participants during an interaction led to more submissive behaviour (demonstrated in Studies 2 and 3), and less affiliative behaviour (demonstrated in Study 3). We also found that there was a discrepancy between how people reported responding to partners who were higher on social anxiety and how outside observers saw partners responding. For instance, participants reported responding with more affiliation towards anxious interaction partners in Studies 1 and 2, yet were coded by observers as responding with less affiliation towards anxious partners in Study 3. Results also indicated that social anxiety moderated interpersonal processes. For example, we found that the ability for interaction partners to pass agency back and forth smoothly at a moment-to-moment level was diminished when interactants were more anxious. In contrast, the coordination of affiliative behaviours at the moment-to-moment level was enhanced when interactants were more anxious. We also demonstrated across all three studies that anxiety in one interaction partner resulted in increased anxiety in the other interaction partner. Finally, we demonstrated the detrimental impact of social anxiety on relationship and task outcomes. For example, in Study 3, the more situational social anxiety that participants experienced, the less the dyad enjoyed the interaction and the worse they did on a task assigned to them. Overall, our work has important implications for interpersonal theory and models of social anxiety, and demonstrates that the study of social anxiety using an interpersonal theory lens provides a fertile ground for further study.

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