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A diary study of self-esteem, social anxiety, interpersonal interactions and health risk behavior in college students




Wilson, Kristina, author
Harman, Jennifer J., advisor
Clegg, Benjamin A., committee member
Henry, Kimberly, committee member
Rouner, Donna, committee member
Steger, Michael F., committee member

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This study sought to clarify mixed findings regarding the association between trait self-esteem and social anxiety and engagement in health risk behaviors among college. A daily diary methodology was used to investigate whether trait self-esteem, social anxiety and interpersonal experiences predict health risk behaviors using Sociometer Theory (Leary & Downs, 1995) as a framework for understanding how daily interpersonal experiences may be related to engagement in health risk behaviors. A total of 219 participants completed an online survey that assessed demographic characteristics, trait self-esteem and social anxiety and completed a shorter online survey daily for 28 days. Findings revealed that participants were more likely to engage in a number of health risk behaviors on days that they experienced relatively more negative interpersonal experiences and that positive experiences appeared to protect against engagement in a number of health risk behaviors. In general, trait self-esteem and social anxiety did not moderate the influence of daily negative interpersonal experiences on health risk behaviors; however, the effects of positive interpersonal experiences on engagement in a number of health risk behaviors depended upon levels of trait self-esteem and social anxiety. For example, individuals with high trait self-esteem were more likely to engage in vaginal sex with a new partner on days when they experienced relatively more positive interpersonal experiences. Socially anxious individuals were also more likely to engage in a broad range of health risk behaviors on days when they experienced more positive interpersonal experiences. Overall, this study provides evidence for how people with low versus high trait self-esteem and low versus high social anxiety differ in terms of their reactions to positive interpersonal experiences. In addition, these findings suggest that in the context of daily life, these trait characteristics are more likely to moderate the influence of positive interpersonal experiences, rather than negative interpersonal behaviors, on health risk behavior.


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experience sampling
College students -- Health and hygiene
sociometer theory
Self-esteem in young adults
social anxiety
Interpersonal relations in young adults
Risk-taking (Psychology)
health risk behavior


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