For those with feelings of social anxiety, university can present unique challenges. Socially anxious students can face functional impairments such as interpersonal and academic deficits, as well as social maladjustment due to a shift in their social networks. Despite this, there is surprisingly little research exploring their experiences at university using qualitative designs. The present study set out to explore how a small sample of undergraduate students experienced feeling socially anxious at university. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight psychology undergraduates and interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) was used to explore their experiences and interpret deeper meaning. Five main themes emerged, two of which are presented in the present study: “persistent self-consciousness” and “avoiding reality.” Findings are discussed in relation to Clark and Wells’ (1995) cognitive model of social anxiety as well as existing literature. Areas requiring further exploration are discussed, as well as how universities may support socially anxious students.


social anxiety, social phobia, university, Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, qualitative research methodology

Author Bio(s)

Jennifer Lee has a postgraduate degree in Psychology and conducted this research during their studies.

Daniel Waldeck, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in Psychology at Coventry University, with expertise in applied psychology and psychological research methods. Please direct correspondence to ac8416@coventry.ac.uk.

Andrew Holliman, Ph.D., is Senior Teaching Fellow at UCL Institute of Education, with expertise in the psychology of education, teaching and learning in higher education, and the development of children’s literacy.

Moitree Banerjee, Ph.D., is Head of Psychology at the University of Chichester, with expertise in qualitative research methods and mindfulness.

Ian Tyndall, Ph.D., is a Reader in Psychology at the University of Chichester, with expertise in cognitive psychology and the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy model.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.





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