Social Anxiety Might Be Genetic, Study Finds

BONN, Germany — If meeting new people can be a harrowing experience for you, it may be an inherited trait, a new study finds.

Research conducted at the University of Bonn suggests that social anxiety might actually be genetic. The researchers found that a single gene called “SLC6A4” could be linked to the condition, which also means there might be more ways to treat it.

alone, social anxiety
A new study finds that social anxiety may actually be a genetic condition, but researchers are looking for more participants to examine.

One in ten people will experience social anxiety in their lifetime, which is classified by avoiding social situations in an effort to avoid being judged by other people. The feeling of anxiety — brought on by social situations — might include rapid heart rate, feeling out of breath, sweaty palms, and shakiness. Many sufferers find connecting digitally, such as through social media or online chatting, an easier channel for socializing.

It’s thought to be driven by a blend of genetic and environmental factors, but until now there was not a lot of research done on the genetic portion of it.

“This is the largest association study so far into social phobia,” says associate professor Johannes Schumacher from the university’s Institute of Human Genetics in a press release.

Now the researchers believe that social anxiety can be attributed at least partially to a gene that encodes a serotonin transporter in the brain.

“There are variable positions in the DNA that can exist to various degrees in different people,” says Dr. Andreas Forstner in the release.

The research team studied 321 people diagnosed with social anxiety and 804 people without it. They focused on single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) — scientists find they’re frequently the source of genetic ailments — and confirmed that the serotonin transporter gene SLC6A4 is commonly correlated with the feeling of anxiety.

But the authors say the findings so far have only scraped the surface of what they hope to discover. “There is still a great deal to be done in terms of researching the genetic causes of this illness,” says Forstner.

To take the study further, the researchers will ask the participants about their symptoms as well as take blood samples to assess their DNA. The researchers want to look more closely at the links between DNA and social phobia, which will require more participants who suffer from social anxiety. Those interested can find more information by clicking here.

“Those who take part will help to research social phobia,” says psychologist and study coordinator Stefanie Rambau of the Clinic and Policlinic for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at University Hospital Bonn, where the next stage of the study is taking place. “This is the basis of better diagnosis and treatment procedures in the future.”

The study was published this month in the journal Psychiatric Genetics.

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