The Interaction Between the Physical Environment and Metaphysical States: The Role of Social Anxiety and Stress in Informing Spatial Perception

Emily Koelmel, The College of Wooster


The current study looks at the interaction between social anxiety, stress, and spatial perception. The hypothesis is that under stress, participants will see an anxiety-provoking stimulus as closer and larger and perceive themselves as shorter, particularly if they are higher on the social anxiety scale. Participants either did a variation of the Trier Social Stress Test or were in a control group, and then estimated spatial properties of a social stimulus, a video camera, as well as estimates of their own height. Finally, participants completed self-reported stress measures, the shortened Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) and the shortened Social Interaction Anxiety Scale (SIAS). Results indicated a marginally significant trend for the stress condition perceiving the video camera as smaller and further away, a significant trend for participants with social anxiety seeing the video camera as significantly larger, and certain subsets of social anxiety accounted for seeing the video camera as closer. There was no interaction between stress and anxiety on spatial estimates. Finally, participants who were upset perceived their self-height as shorter than their actual height. Results distinguish the role of stress and social anxiety in driving perception to prepare an individual for action, and implications are discussed in the realm of therapies for social anxiety.