Those who struggle in social situations may be at greater risk for mental and physical health problems, according to a new study from the University of Arizona, which is among the first to link social skills to physical, not just mental, health.
"We've known for a long time that social skills are associated with mental health problems like depression and anxiety," study author Chris Segrin, head of the UA Department of Communication, was quoted as saying in a news release.
"But we've not known definitively that social skills were also predictive of poorer physical health. Two variables -- loneliness and stress -- appear to be the glue that bind poor social skills to health. People with poor social skills have high levels of stress and loneliness in their lives," said Segrin.
The study, published recently in the journal Health Communication, is based on a survey of a nationally representative sample of 775 people, age 18 to 91, who were asked to respond online to questions designed to measure social skills, stress, loneliness, and mental and physical health.
The research focused on four specific indicators of social skills, including the ability to provide emotional support to others; self-disclosure, or the ability to share personal information with others; negative assertion skills, or the ability to stand up to unreasonable requests from others; and relationship initiation skills, or the ability to introduce yourself to others and get to know them.
Study participants with poor social skills tend to experience more stress and loneliness, both of which can negatively impact health, researcher says.
While the negative effects of stress on the body have been known for a long time, loneliness is a more recently recognized health risk factor.
The good news, Segrin says, is that social skills have proved to be amenable to intervention. Unfortunately, however, many people who have poor social skills don't realize it, Segrin said.