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Social Anxiety Disorder Brain Research

December 9, 2011

Research on the causes and development of social anxiety disorder is providing scientists, clinicians and mental health care policy makers with new insights about prevention and treatment of social anxiety disorder (SAD).

Amygdala investigation in SAD

The University of Stellenbosch is currently conducting research on how  genetics, childhood developmental factors and brain functioning contributes to the development of SAD. The purpose of this study is to investigate how early life trauma during childhood development may contribute to and affect individuals, who develop SAD later in life, or a condition known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD. It will examine individuals with SAD who have had early trauma in their lives, individuals who have SAD without early trauma in their lives, and individuals that have had early trauma in their lives and developed PTSD, as well as healthy volunteers who neither have had early trauma, SAD nor PTSD. We aim to include 60-80 participants in total. The study will explore the differences of these individual’s in order to find out how early trauma during childhood affects the later development of SAD or PTSD, and if early childhood trauma makes SAD look different in some individuals.  You will also have a type of brain scan, called a fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scan. This is a machine used to look at brain activity by creating magnetic fields. By magnetically scanning the head from all sides a picture of your brain activity can be formed. This picture will then be used to find out how the brain functions in SAD and PTSD, and what contributions early life trauma can have on brain functioning. The scan will require you to lie on your back on a table that will move into the scanning machine for the time it will take for the scan. During this time you will be able to close your eyes and rest.

If you decide to participate, we shall ask you to attend a series of three study assessment sessions. You will be compensated for your travel expenses.

The first assessment session will comprise an interview with a researcher. In this interview you will be asked a series of questions about yourself, if you have had any previous medical or mental health problems, and to see if you will be able to be scanned in the fMRI machine. You will then be interviewed to find out what psychological difficulties or problems you might have, using questionnaires. You will also be given seven questionnaires that you are asked to complete yourself. You will have the assistance of a researcher available to help you, should you feel stuck answering the questions. Depending on the category you will be placed in (SAD or PTSD), the first questionnaire you are asked to fill out is either a self report questionnaire about how much social anxiety you have, or a clinician administered questionnaire about how traumatized you are. After this, the second and third questionnaire will ask you about your past and any trauma that you may have suffered as a child and/or when growing up, the fourth questionnaire will ask you about your personality, the fifth questionnaire will address your quality of life, the sixth will ask about your social phobia in relation to ethnicity, and the seventh and final questionnaire will ask you about how resilient you are in stressful situations.

The second assessment session will include a series of neuropsychological assessments. The neuropsychological assessments are a series of tests and questionnaires that will examine your memory, verbal skill, visual spatial ability, planning and reasoning ability, and lastly your level of concentration and attention. You will be doing this part of the assessment with a researcher who will be guiding you through the neuropsychological assessments and help you, should you have any difficulty.

The third and last assessment session will involve fMRI scanning. Before you are placed within the fMRI machine you will be asked to complete a questionnaire, which will assess your current level of anxiety. You will then enter the fMRI machine. In the machine you will be asked to lie very still. Whilst you are in the scanner you will be asked to complete two tasks. In the first task you will be shown a series of pictures of people’s faces, showing different emotions. You will then be asked to identify the emotion in each face, while the machine scans you. In the second task you will be asked to press a button at a “go” sign and to not press the button when a “no go” sign is shown.

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  1. Hi There,

    How are the studies going? Are you still looking for individuals to take part in it? I’d be keen to assist where I can.

    I have Social Phobia/Social Anxiety Disorder (not officially diagnosed by a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist though), as well as a Panic Disorder (this is situational – I experience panic attacks when faced with certain social/public speaking settings) and quite possibly Depression. I’m 35 going on 36 years of age, and experienced early trauma in my life (death of my father when I was 13 years of age).

    Let me know if I can help in any way.


    • davidrosenstein permalink

      Hi Sam

      The studies are going well, thank you. We are recruiting participants still. We would be very happy for you to participate in the study. you are welcome to email me further on

      Thanks for the email,

      be well

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