Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Robert Betz

Second Advisor

Dr. Mary Z. Anderson

Third Advisor

Dr. Paul Yelsma


The present study investigated the underlying cognitive elements of social anxiety in elderly and young adult samples. The young adult participants in this study were 99 undergraduate students from a Midwestern university, recruited through scheduled undergraduate classes from both the Communication and Education Departments. Fifty elderly participants from two independent living senior residence centers were recruited through organizational meetings and contacts coordinated through the housing director or the wellness director. One senior residential center was located in the Midwest, while the other was in the Southeast. The study employed well recognized self-report cognitive measures to assess social anxiety: the Fear of Negative Evaluation Scale (FNE), Self-Consciousness Scale (SCS), and the Irrational Beliefs Test (IBT). The Social Anxiety subscale of the Self-Consciousness Scale was used as the dependent variable, and the Social Avoidance and Distress Scale was employed to calculate convergent validity for the elderly sample. The Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) was administered to assess psychological symptoms in the elderly sample. The Somatization subscale of the BSI was used to test for social anxiety with the elderly population. The Depression subscale (BSI-D) was used as a variable in the analysis of cognitive differences of social anxiety between the elderly and young adult sample. Regression analyses were employed to investigate the cognitive differences between the elderly and young adults on measures of social anxiety and to identify the cognitive components of social anxiety for both samples. It was found that social anxiety levels for young and elderly adults were not significantly different. In comparison to elderly adults, young adults reported significantly higher levels of the cognitive components of social anxiety. It was discovered that the cognitive components explained a greater amount of the variance in social anxiety scores for the elderly adult participants than that of the young adult participants. The cognitive specificity of social anxiety was confirmed for this sample of elderly adults, while the sample of young adults’ scores on depression and anxiety were significantly correlated. Discussion concerning the results of the investigation is presented and integrated with the current literature. Implications for clinical applications and future research are also provided.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access