The experience of social anxiety in Native American adolescents

Record Number: 

West, Amy Elizabeth. “The experience of social anxiety in Native American adolescents.” Diss. (Psychology). U of Virginia, 2004. 139 p.


West’s research project received support from the National Institutes of Health (National Research Service Award) from the National Institutes of Mental Health (p. ix). Her research began with the observation that adolescents experience anxiety most frequently when they are in interpersonal or social situations. Such anxiety might affect the psychological function of adolescents and put them at risk for psychopathology. At the same time, Native American adolescents have higher rates of general anxiety as well as substance abuse and suicide. In addition, adolescence is the time when ethnic identity is being developed. With these factors as background, West developed a study that would assess Lumbee adolescents’ social anxiety; temperament; ethnic identity; and several interpersonal, cognitive, and affective variables likely to relate to social anxiety as well as ethnic identity.

West’s sample consisted of 86 Native American adolescents (7th or 8th grade) and 67 Native American parents from Robeson County. She administered several measures (summarized in Table 1 and reproduced in the Appendix). For the adolescents, she administered the Social Anxiety Scale for Adolescents (La Greca, 1998, 1999); The Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (Phinney, 1992); A Measure of Enculturation for Native American Youth (Zimmerman et al., 1996); Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1962); Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (Angold et al., 1995, to measure depression); Family Environmental Scale, 2nd ed., short form (Holahan and Moos, 1982, to measure quality of family relationship); several questions to assess peer relationships; and Child Behavior Checklist 4-18 Years (Achenbach and Edelbrock, 1983, to assess social competence).

For parents, West administered the Retrospective Self Report of Inhibition (Reznick et al., 1992) for adolescents and an adaptation of the Emotionality, Activity and Sociability measure (Buss and Plomin, 1984), asking them to assess their child's behavioral inhibition.

West used several statistical methods (descriptive statistics, t-tests, bivariate correlations, partial correlations, canonical correlations, and hierarchical regressive analyses) to answer her study hypotheses. She summarizes her basic finding as follows:

“Overall, adolescents in this study experienced lower levels of social anxiety than the comparison sample, with the exception of social anxiety involving new experiences or people. Social anxiety symptoms were strongly associated with early childhood behavioral inhibition. However, social anxiety was not directly related to ethnic identity, and the relationship between social anxiety and ethnic identity did not appear mediated by any of the cognitive, affective, or interpersonal influences studied” (p. 87).

She added to her basic conclusion these findings, providing discussion of each one:

  • Although Native American adolescents experienced more social anxiety than non-Natives in new social situations, they experienced less fear of negative evaluation by peers and lower levels of social fear in general.
  • Behavioral inhibition during childhood (such as parents, fear, and illness behavior), as reported retrospectively by parents, was highly related to social anxiety in the Lumbee adolescents—but for females only.
  • The finding of no direct association between ethnic identity and social anxiety might be explained by the homogeneity of the Robeson County community in which the Lumbee adolescents were living. West notes, “these adolescents may still be in the ‘unexamined ethnic identity’ phase, where their ethnic attitudes are largely the reflection of conformity to parents’ and social attitudes, which for this sample reflect the community's intense Native pride” (p. 99).

Limitations of the study, noted by West, include the relatively small sample size, reliance on self-report measures, use of parents’ retrospective reporting of childhood behavioral inhibition, and her decision not to use a comparison sample.

First Appeared in 1994 Book?: 
Publication Type: 
Find a library near you that has this dissertation by going to the Open WorldCat record.