Social anxiety disorder shapes the lives of millions of people worldwide.
Impairing social interactions, the condition has been previously connected to a number of psychological and environmental factors.
According to new research, the disorder may be linked to genetic roots.
Also known as social phobia, social anxiety disorder is the excessive and unreasonable fear of social interactions and situations. Often having the fear of being criticized, judged or closely watched, people with social anxiety tend to avoid social communication, especially outside of the world of anonymity offered through online services.
While previously the disorder has been linked to a multitude of factors ranging from biological and psychological to environmental, new research from the University of Bonn shows that genes might also play a pivotal role.
According to researchers, a gene that encodes a serotonin transporter in the brain might be the responsible for social anxiety and depressive states. While the results are still to be published, the research explained that being in a large group may trigger the suppression of the transporter gene, resulting in heart palpitations, shortness of breath and other elements related to the phobia.
“There is still a great deal to be done in terms of researching the genetic causes of this illness. Until now only a few candidate genes have been known that could be linked to this,” explained Dr. Andreas Forstner from the University of Bonn in an interview with PsychCentral.
Over the course of the study, 321 patients were compared to 804 control individuals.
The participants were asked questions in relation to social anxiety. Their DNA was then examined via blood samples. Using an array of statistical methods and evaluation of the collected data, the researchers managed to find that a serotonin transporter gene SLC6A4 might be directly involved in the development of the disorder.
“Result substantiates indications from previous studies that serotonin plays an important role in social phobia,” stated Dr. Rupert Conrad from the Clinic and Policlinic for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy.
“In order to achieve this goal, we need many more study participants who suffer from social anxiety,” added Stefanie Rambau from the University of Bonn.
The study itself is one of the largest research studies related to social anxiety and its association to genetics. After the new findings, the scientists are now going to further investigate the direct link between the DNA, the SLC6A4 Gene and the social anxiety disorder.
Social anxiety is a widespread problem
It affects more than 1.5 percent of the population in the U.S. alone, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
It is further speculated that the number might be even bigger, due to people not generally seeking professional help due to a low severity. In some cases, people don’t consider social anxiety to be a psychological problem at all. Finding the cause of the phobia results in better treatment, which is crucial for the normal lives of people suffering from the condition.