Previous studies on healthy people have indicated that testosterone facilitates contact with other people. It has also been shown that people with social anxiety have less testosterone than healthy people do, and that they are highly likely to suffer from social avoidance. “Testosterone has an anxiety-suppressing effect, and it facilitates contact in social situations. We wanted to see what it would do in people with social anxiety,” explains Dorien Enter, behavioural scientist at Radboud University and first author of the article.
A social network event may be nightmarish to those who suffer from SAD.
Seeking eye contact
Enter conducted a placebo-controlled study involving 19 women with a social anxiety disorder (SAD) and a control group of equal size without SAD. On one day of the study, they received testosterone, and on the other day, a placebo. Neither the researcher nor the test subject knew which condition applied. Enter examined whether the test subjects avoided eye contact – a typical behaviour for people with social anxiety – with angry, happy and neutral faces on a computer screen. Eye-tracking was used to follow their gaze. What did the research reveal? The test subjects with social anxiety who had received testosterone avoided eye contact less often than was the case for those in the placebo condition.
Medicine for anxiety?
Are testosterone supplements the future for people with social anxiety? “No. It is not healthy to take testosterone for extended periods. What we would now like to investigate is whether testosterone can be helpful as supplemental support for exposure-therapy sessions, in which people try to overcome their anxiety through exposure to social situations that they would normally avoid. We think that an extra dose of testosterone might help people cross this threshold.”
Dorien Enter, MSc is a PhD candidate in Experimental Psychopathology at Radboud University in Nijmegen. Her PhD research, which is being conducted within the PI group chaired by Professor Karin Roelofs, focuses particularly on the role that the hormone testosterone plays in social anxiety and avoidance in patients with a social anxiety disorder (SAD). Roelofs got a NWO VIDI grant for this project.
Enter, D., Terburg, D., Harrewijn, A., Spinhoven, P., Roelofs, K. Single dose testosterone administration alleviates gaze avoidance in women with Social Anxiety Disorder. Psychoneuroendocrinology (2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.09.008
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