Encouraging a peer in need: The impacts of social anxiety and peer familiarity

Sebastian P. Dys, Catherine A. Burrows, Lauren V. Usher, Alisa N. Almas, Kathryn A. Degnan, Nathan A. Fox, Heather A. Henderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Extant research has produced conflicting findings regarding the link between social fearfulness and prosocial behavior, with some studies reporting negative relations and others reporting null effects. Furthermore, these studies have focused predominantly on toddlerhood, and few have examined prosociality between peers. The present study investigated whether the link between social anxiety and prosocial behavior (i.e., providing encouragement) varied depending on interpersonal and situational factors (i.e., one's familiarity with a peer, and the level of support sought by a peer, respectively). We tested this question using a multimethod approach, which included ecologically valid stress-inducing task and dyadic design with a sample of 9- to 10-year-olds (N = 447). Results revealed that social anxiety was related negatively to providing encouragement among familiar and unfamiliar dyads. In familiar dyads, however, this main effect was qualified by an interaction with the level of support sought by one's peer. Compared to those low in social anxiety, children high in social anxiety provided relatively less encouragement in response to higher levels of support seeking from their peers. The findings are considered in relation to theorizing regarding the effect of overarousal on children's prosocial behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)618-632
Number of pages15
JournalSocial Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank all the children and caregivers who participated in our study as well as the research assistants who helped collect the data for this study. This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (HD017899 to Nathan A. Fox). The study received ethics approval from the Institutional Review Board at the University of Maryland, titled “An Investigation of Infant Temperament,” protocol #312425. Individual data are not publicly available due to privacy or ethical restrictions. The data that support the findings of this study are available on request from the first author. Analysis syntax and output files are openly available at: https://osf.io/9nbf8/?view_only=191188450295436181c4602c060454cd

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • development
  • dyadic analysis
  • prosocial behavior
  • social anxiety
  • social fearfulness

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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