Epidemiological data on subtypes of social phobia are scarce and their defining features are debated. Hence, the present study explored the prevalence and descriptive characteristics of empirically derived social phobia subgroups in the general population.
To reveal subtypes, data on social distress, functional impairment, number of social fears and criteria fulfilled for avoidant personality disorder were extracted from a previously published epidemiological study of 188 social phobics and entered into an hierarchical cluster analysis. Criterion validity was evaluated by comparing clusters on the Social Phobia Scale (SPS) and the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale (SIAS). Finally, profile analyses were performed in which clusters were compared on a set of sociodemographic and descriptive characteristics.
Three clusters emerged, consisting of phobics scoring either high (generalized subtype), intermediate (non-generalized subtype) or low (discrete subtype) on all variables. Point prevalence rates were 2.0%, 5.9% and 7.7% respectively. All subtypes were distinguished on both SPS and SIAS. Generalized or severe social phobia tended to be over-represented among individuals with low levels of educational attainment and social support. Overall, public-speaking was the most common fear.
Although categorical distinctions may be used, the present data suggest that social phobia subtypes in the general population mainly differ dimensionally along a mild moderate-severe continuum, and that the number of cases declines with increasing severity.