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What Works in Preventing Emerging Social Anxiety: Exposure, Cognitive Restructuring, or a Combination?

Programs that aim to reduce symptoms of social anxiety in children generally include multiple components, such as exposure and cognitive restructuring. It is unknown if separate components yield positive intervention effects in children or whether a combination of components is required.

Anne Miers and others
11 December 2022
Journal of Child and Family Studies


We investigated the effectiveness of exposure, cognitive restructuring, and a combination of both components in reducing social anxiety symptoms and anxiety-related social-emotional outcomes in an indicated-prevention setting.

To this end, we conducted a cluster-randomized microtrial using a sample of 191 children aged 8 to 13 years (M = 10.48, SD = 1.10). Children with elevated social anxiety symptoms participated in one of three group interventions, each lasting four weeks, and completed a questionnaire on four measurement occasions. Latent change models demonstrated that the intervention with either exposure or cognitive restructuring reduced social anxiety symptoms and anxiety-related outcomes.

The analyses showed that both of these intervention components were effective, with more favorable effects for exposure. Combining exposure and cognitive restructuring techniques did not yield greater benefit than either component alone. Future research should investigate whether specific components may be more effective for particular subgroups (e.g., based on sex or level of behavioral inhibition) in more detail.

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