Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Physiological responses to a social-evaluative situation

How is the development of physiological responses to social evaluation in adolescence affected by other normative developments, such as pubertal, socio-cognitive and psychosocial development? Are social anxiety and public speaking anxiety associated with characteristic patterns of stress responses to a social-evaluative situation?

2011 - 2021
Esther van den Bos

Social anxiety disorder, which is characterized by a strong fear of negative social evaluation, often has its onset in adolescence. In addition, adolescents in general seem to become more sensitive to social evaluation; as they grow older, they typically become more nervous about what their age-peers think of them. In recent years, some empirical studies comparing different age groups within the adolescent period have demonstrated that older adolescents show larger biological stress responses (e.g. as measured by cortisol, salivary alpha-amylase, hearth rate, blood pressure) to social evaluative situations, such as the Leiden Public Speaking Task. However, it is largely unknown why sensitivity to social evaluation increases during adolescence.

The longitudinal data collected in the Social Anxiety and Normal Development (SAND) study allow us to follow the development of sensitivity to social evaluation within individual adolescents. Moreover, with these data, we can investigate the contributions of factors correlated with age that may underlie the increase in stress responses during adolescence, such as pubertal development, cognitive development and psychosocial development.

The data from the SAND-study are also used to investigate the relations of physiological stress responses with social anxiety and public speaking anxiety. Although many studies have tested the hypothesis that higher levels of social anxiety are associated with larger physiological responses to social-evaluative situations overall, the evidence is mixed. The current project investigates the (possibly differential) relations of social anxiety and public speaking anxiety with specific aspects of physiological responses, such as their timing, time course and pattern of co-occurrence.


Key publications

  • Van den Bos, E., Van Duijvenvoorde, A. C. K., & Westenberg, P. M. (2016). Effects of adolescent socio-cognitive development on the cortisol response to social evaluation. Developmental Psychology, 52, 1151-1163. DOI:10.1037/dev0000133
  • Van den Bos, E., De Rooij, M., Sumter, S. R., & Westenberg, P. M. (2016). Continued development of recursive thinking in adolescence: Longitudinal analyses with a revised recursive thinking test. Cognitive Development, 37, 28-41. DOI:10.1016/j.cogdev.2015.11.002
  • Van den Bos, E., De Rooij, M., Miers, A. C., Bokhorst, C. L., & Westenberg, P. M. (2014). Adolescents' increasing stress response to social evaluation: Pubertal effects on cortisol and alpha-amylase during public speaking. Child Development, 85(1), 220-236. DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12118
  • Sumter, S.R., Bokhorst, C.L., Miers, A.C., Van Pelt, J., & Westenberg, P.M. (2010). Age and puberty differences in stress responses during a public speaking task: Doadolescents grow more sensitive to social evaluation? Psychoneuroendocrinology, 35, 1510-1516. (doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.05.004).
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