Targeting the probability versus cost of feared outcomes in public speaking anxiety
Cognitive-behavioral theory suggests that social phobia is maintained, in part, by overestimates of the probability and cost of negative social events. Indeed, empirically supported cognitive-behavioral treatments directly target these cognitive biases through the use of in vivo exposure or behavioral experiments. While cognitive-behavioral theories and treatment protocols emphasize the importance of targeting probability and cost biases in the reduction of social anxiety, few studies have examined specific techniques for reducing probability and cost bias, and thus the relative efficacy of exposure to the probability versus cost of negative social events is unknown. In the present study, 37 undergraduates with high public speaking anxiety were randomly assigned to a single-session intervention designed to reduce either the perceived probability or the perceived cost of negative outcomes associated with public speaking. Compared to participants in the probability treatment condition, those in the cost treatment condition demonstrated significantly greater improvement on measures of public speaking anxiety and cost estimates for negative social events. The superior efficacy of the cost treatment condition was mediated by greater treatment-related changes in social cost estimates. The clinical implications of these findings are discussed.