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Asociality refers to the lack of motivation to engage in social interaction, or a preference for solitary activities. Developmental psychologists use the synonyms nonsocial, unsocial, and social disinterest. Asociality is distinct from but not mutually exclusive to anti-social behavior, in which the latter implies an active misanthropy or antagonism toward other people or the general social order. A degree of asociality is routinely observed in introverts, while extreme asociality is observed in people with a variety of clinical conditions.

Asociality is not necessarily perceived as a totally negative trait by society, since asociality has been used as a way to express dissent from prevailing ideas. It is especially seen as a desirable trait in certain monastic traditions, notably in Catholicism, Buddhism and Sufism.


  • Introversion 1
  • Asociality in psychopathology 2
    • Schizophrenia 2.1
    • Personality disorders 2.2
      • Avoidant personality disorder 2.2.1
      • Schizoid personality disorder 2.2.2
      • Schizotypal personality disorder 2.2.3
    • Autism spectrum disorders 2.3
      • Autism 2.3.1
      • Asperger syndrome 2.3.2
    • Mood disorders 2.4
      • Depression 2.4.1
      • Social anxiety disorder 2.4.2
  • Management 3
    • Treatments 3.1
      • Social skills training 3.1.1
      • Metacognitive interpersonal therapy 3.1.2
    • Coping mechanisms 3.2
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6


Introversion is "the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one's own mental life".[1] Some popular writers have characterized introverts as people whose energy tends to expand through reflection and dwindle during interaction.[2]

Asociality in psychopathology


In schizophrenia, asociality is one of the main 5 so-called negative symptoms, the others being avolition, anhedonia, reduced affect and alogia. Due to a lack of desire to form relationships, social withdrawal is common in people with schizophrenia.[3][4][5] People with schizophrenia may experience social deficits or dysfunction as a result of the disorder, leading to asocial behavior. Frequent or ongoing delusions and hallucinations can deteriorate relationships and other social ties, isolating individuals with schizophrenia from reality and in some cases leading to homelessness. Even when treated with medication for the disorder, they may be unable to engage in social behaviors such as maintaining conversations, accurately perceiving emotions in others, or functioning in crowded settings. There has been extensive research on the effective use of social skills training for the treatment of schizophrenia, in outpatient clinics as well as inpatient units. Social skills training (SST) can be used to help patients with schizophrenia make better eye contact with other people, increase assertiveness, and improve their general conversational skills.[6]

Personality disorders

Avoidant personality disorder

Asociality in people with avoidant personality disorder (AvPD) is common. They experience discomfort and feel inhibited in social situations, overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy. Such people remain consistently fearful of social rejection, choosing to avoid social engagements as they do not want to give people the opportunity to reject or accept them. People with AvPD actively avoid occasions that require social interaction, leading to extremely asocial tendencies. These individuals usually have few or no close friends. Their asocial behavior is not due to lack of social skills, but rather a lack of confidence, and fear of ridicule and embarrassment.

People with AvPD may also display social phobia, the difference being that social phobia is the fear of social circumstances whereas AvPD is better described as an aversion to intimacy in relationships.[7]

Schizoid personality disorder

Schizoid personality disorder (SPD) is characterized by a lack of interest in social relationships, a tendency towards a solitary lifestyle, secretiveness, emotional coldness, and apathy. Affected individuals may simultaneously demonstrate a rich, elaborate and exclusively internal fantasy world.[8]

SPD is not the same as schizophrenia, although they share such similar characteristics as detachment and blunted affect. There is, moreover, increased prevalence of the disorder in families with schizophrenia.[9]

Schizotypal personality disorder

Schizotypal personality disorder is characterized by a need for social isolation, anxiety in social situations, odd behavior and thinking, and often unconventional beliefs. People with this disorder feel extreme discomfort with maintaining close relationships with people, and therefore they often do not. People who have this disorder may display peculiar manners of talking and dressing and often have difficulty in forming relationships. In some cases, they may react oddly in conversations, not respond or talk to themselves.[10]

Autism spectrum disorders

Asociality has been observed in individuals who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger's Syndrome and autism.[11]


Those with autism may display profoundly asocial tendencies, due to difficulties with socialization and interpersonal relations. Other causes for asocial behavior include limited social expressiveness and low sensitivity to social cues, emotions, and pragmatic use of language. One suggestion is that individuals with autism lack the mirror neurons that allow neurotypical individuals to mimic the behavior of others.[12]

Asocial tendencies become acutely noticeable in children with autism from a young age due to deficits in crucial social development skills. These skills include social and emotional reciprocity, eye-to-eye gaze, gestures, normal facial expressions and body posture, and sharing enjoyment and interests with others. Often children with autism will have little to no interest in social interaction with others, particularly with their peers, as they have difficulty recognizing faces and facial expressions and do not typically recognize other people as social beings.

Asperger syndrome

Individuals with Asperger syndrome (AS) display similar asocial behavior. Unlike other pervasive development disorders, most children with AS want to be social, but fail to socialize successfully, which can lead to later withdrawal and asocial behavior, particularly in adolescence.[11] Those with AS display the same major difficulties in social interaction as those with autism, but without the typical childhood delays in language and cognition. Individuals with AS have trouble interacting with others because they are often but not always, frequently self-interested, socially inept, and preoccupied with abstract, narrow interests that cause them to appear eccentric, which may further lead to alienation from their peers.[13]

Mood disorders


Asociality can be observed in individuals suffering from major depressive disorder or dysthymia, as individuals lose interest in everyday activities and hobbies they used to enjoy, which may include social activities, resulting in social withdrawal.

Social Skills Training can be adapted to the treatment of depression with a focus on assertiveness training. Depressed patients often benefit from learning to set limits to others, to obtain satisfaction for their own needs, and to feel more self-confident in social interactions. Research suggests that patients who are depressed because they tend to withdraw from others can benefit from social skills training by learning to increase positive social interactions with others instead of pulling back. [14]

Social anxiety disorder

Asocial behavior is observed in people with social anxiety disorder (SAD), who experience perpetual and irrational fears of humiliating themselves in social situations. They often suffer from panic attacks and severe anxiety as a result, which can occasionally lead to agoraphobia. The disorder is common in children and young adults, diagnosed on average around 13 years of age. If left untreated, people with SAD exhibit asocial behavior into adulthood, avoiding social interactions and career choices that require interpersonal skills. Social skills training can help people who suffer from social phobia or shyness to improve their communication and social skills so that they will be able to mingle with others or go to job interviews with greater ease and self-confidence.



Social skills training

Social skills training (SST) is an effective technique aimed towards anyone with "difficulty relating to others," a common symptom of shyness, marital and family conflicts, or developmental disabilities; as well as of many mental and neurological disorders including adjustment disorders, anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, social phobia, alcohol dependence, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, avoidant personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizotypal personality disorder.

Fortunately for people who display difficulty relating to others, social skills can be learned, as they are not simply inherent to an individual's personality or disposition. Therefore, there is hope for anyone who wishes to improve their social skills, including those with psychosocial or neurological disorders. Nonetheless, it is important to note that asociality may still be considered neither a character flaw nor an inherently negative trait.

SST includes improving eye contact, speech duration, frequency of requests, and the use of gestures, as well as decreasing automatic compliance to the requests of others. SST has been shown to improve levels of assertiveness (positive and negative) in both men and women.

Additionally, SST can focus on receiving skills (e.g. accurately perceiving problem situations), processing skills (e.g. considering several response alternatives), and sending skills (delivering appropriate verbal and non-verbal responses).[15]

Metacognitive interpersonal therapy

Metacognitive interpersonal therapy is a method of treating and improving the social skills of people with personality disorders that are associated with asociality. Through metacognitive interpersonal therapy, clinicians seek to improve their patients' metacognition, meaning the ability to recognize and read the mental states of others. The therapy differs from SST in that the patient is trained to identify their own thoughts and feelings as a means of recognizing similar emotions in others. Metacognitive interpersonal therapy has been shown to improve interpersonal and decision-making skills by encouraging awareness of suppressed inner states, which enables patients to better relate to other people in social environments.

The therapy is often used to treat patients with two or more co-occurring personality disorders, commonly including obsessive-compulsive and avoidant behaviors.[16]

Coping mechanisms

In order to cope with asocial behavior, many individuals, especially those with avoidant personality disorder, develop an inner world of fantasy and imagination to entertain themselves when feeling rejected by peers. Asocial people may frequently imagine themselves in situations where they are accepted by others or have succeeded at an activity. Additionally, they may have fantasies relating to memories of early childhood and close family members.[17]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Helgoe, Laurie (2008). "Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength". Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks, Inc.
  3. ^ Carson VB (2000). Mental health nursing: the nurse-patient journey W.B. Saunders. ISBN 978-0-7216-8053-8. p. 638.
  4. ^ Schizophrenia. Wiley-Blackwell; 2003. ISBN 978-0-632-06388-8. p. 481.
  5. ^ Velligan DI and Alphs LD. Negative Symptoms in Schizophrenia: The Importance of Identification and Treatment. Psychiatric Times. March 1, 2008;25(3).
  6. ^ Comer, R. J. (2007) Abnormal Psychology Sixth Edition. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
  7. ^ Comer, R. J. (2007) Abnormal Psychology Seventh Edition. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
  8. ^ Authur S. Reber- Dictionary of Psychology, Penguin p.690 (1995)
  9. ^ Ball, Jeff. "Schizoid Personality Disorder". Psychological Care & Healing Treatment Center. Retrieved 2010-12-18. 
  10. ^ Schacter, Daniel L., Daniel T. Gilbert, and Daniel M. Wegner. Psychology. Worth Publishers, 2010. Print.
  11. ^ a b [1]
  12. ^ V.S. Ramachandran: A Radical Theory of Autism
  13. ^ Mash, E.J. & Wolfe, D.A. (2010) Abnormal Child Psychology, Fourth Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Press.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Wixted, J., Morrison, R. (1989). Social Skills Training. Bellack A. (Ed.) In A Clinical Guide for the Treatment of Schizophrenia, (237-258) New York: Plenum.
  16. ^ Fiore, D., Dimaggio, G., Nicolo G., Semerari, A., & Carcione, A. (2008). Metacognitive Interpersonal Therapy in a Case of Obsessive–Compulsive and Avoidant Personality Disorders. Journal of Clinical Psychology 64(2),168-180.
  17. ^ Millon, T. (2004). Personality Disorders in Modern Life. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons Inc.

Further reading

  • Davidson, Gerald C.; Neale, John M. (1994). Abnormal Psychology, 6th Edition. New York: John Wiley & Sons.  
  • Kahney, Leander (28 January 04). "Social Nets Not Making Friends".  
  • Coplan, Robert J.; Prakash, Kavita; O'Neil, Kim; Armer, Mandana (2004). "Do You "Want" to Play? Distinguishing Between Conflicted Shyness and Social Disinterest in Early Childhood". Developmental Psychology, 40(2), 244-258. 
  • Coplan, Robert J.; Armer, Mandana (2007). "A ‘‘Multitude’’ of Solitude: A Closer Look at Social Withdrawal and Nonsocial Play in Early Childhood". Child Development Perspectives, 1(1), 26-32. 
  • Larson, Reed W. (1990). "The Solitary Side of Life: An Examination of the Time People Spend Alone from Childhood to Old Age". Developmental Review, 10(1), 155-183. 
  • Leary, Mark R.; Herbst, Kenneth C.; McCrary, Felicia (2003). "Finding pleasure in solitary activities: desire for aloneness or disinterest in social contact?". Personality and Individual Differences, 35, 59-68. 
  • Larson, Reed W. (1990). "The Solitary Side of Life: An Examination of the Time People Spend Alone from Childhood to Old Age". Developmental Review, 10(1), 155-183. 
  • Jennings, Kay D. (1975). "People Versus Object Orientation, Social Behavior, and Intellectual Abilities in Preschool Children". Developmental Psychology, 11(4), 511-519. 
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