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CAMBRIDGE, England — Young people who are more self-conscious about their looks are more prone to experiencing dating anxiety, according to a new study. This research represents one of the greatest efforts yet made to examine the relationship between negative body image and the anxiousness that comes with meeting new people.

The study reveals that individuals who are more concerned with beauty are more prone to suffer from social physique anxiety, or stress about one’s physical looks in social contexts. Dating anxiety is linked to fear of the unknown, including unfavorable outcomes and social discomfort. These findings were shown to be the same for both genders.

For the study, 501 heterosexual young adults in the UK were polled on their physical appearance, nervousness over their appearance, and dating stress. All participants rated their agreement with various statements such as: “Before going out in public, I constantly pay attention to my appearance,” “I am a timid person when it comes to exhibiting my physique/figure to others,” and “I worry that my date would find fault with me.”

“Our results suggest that having an unhealthy fixation with appearance is associated with social physique anxiety, and those with high levels of social physique anxiety are more fearful of negative evaluations from others in dating contexts and are also more likely to experience greater social distress when interacting with potential romantic partners,” says Viren Swami in a statement. Swami, a Professor of Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University in England, is the study’s lead author.

Due to the critical role social interactions play in young people’s psychosocial development, focused therapies might be utilized to decrease anxiety in dating situations, say researchers. Additionally, they caution that dating stress may result in a variety of mental health and behavioral issues.

“Dating can be especially difficult for these individuals, and they are more likely to avoid situations and activities in which their bodies and appearance may be scrutinized, such as first dates,” adds Prof. Swami. “These issues are far from trivial for young adults. We know that significant levels of dating anxiety and distress can lead to various mental health and behavioral issues, such as lower self-esteem, poorer sexual development, feelings of loneliness, a lack of confidence and assertiveness, and inhibition in seeking romantic relationships.

“As our research indicates that body image attitudes and social physique anxiety are strongly associated with dating anxiety, it may be useful to consider whether interventions designed to manage and reduce appearance-based anxieties, such as enhancement of self-compassion or mindfulness-based therapies, also help to reduce dating anxiety,” Swami concludes.

This study is published in the journal Body Image.

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