Social anxiety predicts avoidance behaviour in virtual encounters

Mike Rinck*, Tobias Rortgen, Wolf-Gero Lange, Ron Dotsch, Daniel H. J. Wigboldus, Eni S. Becker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Avoidant behaviour is critical in social anxiety and social phobia, being a major factor in the maintenance of anxiety. However, almost all previous studies of social avoidance were restricted to using self-reports for the study of intentional aspects of avoidance. In contrast, the current study used immersive virtual reality technology to measure interpersonal distance as an index of avoidance, an unintentional behavioural indicator. In a virtual supermarket, twenty-three female participants differing in social anxiety approached computer-generated persons (avatars) under the pretext of a cover story. During the task, different aspects of approach and avoidance were measured. The results confirmed the hypotheses: The more anxious participants were, the more slowly they approached the avatars, and the larger the distance they kept from the avatars. This indicates that even sub-phobic social anxiety is related to unintentional avoidance behaviour in social situations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number927613508
Pages (from-to)1269-1276
Number of pages8
JournalCognition & Emotion
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • Social anxiety
  • Approach
  • Avoidance
  • Virtual reality


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