New evidence of heterogeneity in social anxiety disorder


To study qualitatively different subgroups of social anxiety disorder (SAD) based on harm avoidance (HA) and novelty seeking (NS) dimensions.

One hundred and forty-two university students with SAD (SCID-DSM-IV) were included in the study. The temperament dimensions HA and NS from the Cloninger’s Temperament and Character Inventory were subjected to cluster analysis to identify meaningful subgroups. The identified subgroups were compared for sociodemographics, SAD severity, substance use, history of suicide and self-harm attempts, early life events, and two serotonin transporter gene polymorphisms (5-HTTLPR and STin2.VNTR).

Two subgroups of SAD were identified by cluster analysis: a larger (61% of the sample) inhibited subgroup of subjects with “high-HA/low-NS”, and a smaller (39%) atypical impulsive subgroup with high–moderate HA and NS. The two groups did not differ in social anxiety severity, but did differ in history of lifetime impulsive-related-problems. History of suicide attempts and self-harm were as twice as frequent in the impulsive subgroup. Significant differences were observed in the pattern of substance misuse. Whereas subjects in the inhibited subgroup showed a greater use of alcohol (P = 0.002), subjects in the impulsive subgroup showed a greater use of substances with a high-sensation-seeking profile (P < 0.001). The STin2.VNTR genotype frequency showed an inverse distribution between subgroups (P = 0.005).

Our study provides further evidence for the presence of qualitatively different SAD subgroups and the propensity of a subset of people with SAD to exhibit impulsive, high-risk behaviors.

Social anxiety disorder;
Impulsive subtype;
Harm avoidance;
Novelty seeking;
Temperament and character inventory, STin2.VNTR