Human beings are social creatures by nature. We are designed to seek companionship from others and build close social relationships. In most cases, having friends and being around others gives us the feeling of pleasure and belongingness.

Some people, however, struggle with finding interest or happiness in social situations. They might be suffering from what is called social anhedonia. Unlike social anxiety—which may be a sign of fear, introversion, resentment, or negative feelings in social settings—social anhedonia refers to the diminished or missing capacity for enjoyment.

What Is Social Anhedonia?

Anhedonia is a mental health condition characterized by the inability to find pleasure in activities that are normally found to be enjoyable.

Social anhedonia is present in an individual who shows disinterest in and has a relatively low drive for social interactions. People with social anhedonia prefer solitude. On the other hand, individuals suffering from social anxiety don’t necessarily want to isolate themselves.

Research suggests that social anhedonia is associated with poorer social functioning and loneliness. Anhedonic individuals tend to show a more negative affect and less positive emotions. Social anhedonia causes individuals to feel uninterested in developing relationships with other people.

Other studies show the relationship of social anhedonia to social and emotional difficulties. Anhedonia predicts symptoms of depression. Evidence proves that dysphoria or generalized unhappiness is associated with maladaptive positive affect regulation.

Common Signs a Person Is Experiencing Social Anhedonia

1. Social Withdrawal

Social withdrawal is characterized by avoiding or removing yourself from social activities. This could include remote activities such as contacting friends or loved ones through text, phone calls, e-mail, or social media. A person experiencing social withdrawal may no longer attend social gatherings such as holiday parties, work social events, family meals, or other events.

2. Lack of Relationships

Anhedonia can make you lose interest in building interpersonal relationships. People may find themselves uninterested in pursuing and maintaining friendships or romantic and family relationships. They are not interested in going out with their friends or meeting family members during holidays. These events do not excite them at all.

3. Diminished Emotional Response

Human beings often find comfort and companionship with their friends and loved ones. A person with anhedonia struggles to enjoy periods where bonding with others is expected. They have a reduced ability to feel and show an emotional response to social and non-social pleasure. 

Some individuals suffering from social anhedonia may even show negative emotional responses to positive situations or events. This type of behavior is known as negative affective interference, the act of associating positive social contact (like a kiss or a hug) with fear.

4. Poor Social Adjustment

As mentioned earlier, anhedonia affects an individual’s social functioning and can influence future behaviors negatively. People who score highly on social anhedonia report difficulties in adjusting to social climates. Acquired socialization skills do not work for them. They do not feel genuine pleasure in social interactions and often feel like they have to fake their emotions while engaging in them.

5. Decreased Positivity

Another indicator of social anhedonia is the inability to feel positive. People with social anhedonia experience fewer positive feelings toward the people around them and tend to be pessimistic toward positive future events. This can result in behavioral deficits and the absence of appropriate responses to positive stimuli.

6. Monotonous Vocal Expression

When an individual does not feel joy or pleasure, they tend to communicate with a flat vocal expression that makes them sound uninterested, accompanied by a flat facial expression. This behavior tends to discourage conversations and social interactions.

Social Anhedonia Risk Factors

The sense of belongingness is fundamental to human nature. It shapes our motivation in maintaining our social relationships. Experiencing a reduced interest in social engagements can be a sign you’re suffering from social anhedonia.

Understanding social anhedonia is important as it has a much broader presentation and specific subtypes of social cues, contexts, and environments. It captures both observable social behaviors and subjective hedonic and reward responses. The risk factors of anhedonia include:

  • A clinical diagnosis of schizophrenia and depression
  • Having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or a past traumatic experience
  • Getting diagnosed with a chronic illness, which affects the quality of life
  • The presence of other mental health issues, such as an eating disorder

A mental health professional uses tools to manage this kind of mental health issue and helps assess an individual’s social and neural development. The tools used can be in the form of a questionnaire that can also help in positively anticipating future events. Treatments may include medications such as antidepressants.

Physical Anhedonia

Physical anhedonia (PhA) is characterized by an individual’s inability to experience pleasure from sensory stimuli or physical acts that others perceive as pleasurable, such as taking a warm bath, eating, or engaging in sexual intercourse.

Studies show that physical anhedonia plays a significant role in most common mental health disorders, such as major depressive disorder (MDD). Severe PhA is known to predict suicidal ideations in depressed patients. It has become a useful marker for identifying emotional and behavioral manifestations of MDD.

Physical anhedonia is a contributing factor in the acute phase of schizophrenia. The severity of PhA is associated with both the positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia spectrum disorders.

Diagnosing anhedonia includes a physical exam to determine if the individual has physical problems and blood tests to test for a thyroid problem or vitamin deficiencies that could also be causing the depression. Additionally, a mental health practitioner may also ask for medical history, such as substance abuse history, general mood, and symptoms of anhedonia.

Levels of Social Anhedonia

Social anhedonia is one of the core symptoms of schizophrenia and depression, and its levels are measured through a questionnaire called SAS or the Social Anhedonia Scale. It mainly assesses an individuals’ pleasure when interacting with others or the interest of having close social connections.

SAS is a tool that has a strong face-predictive utility and validity. Higher SAS scores are associated with poor social functioning and with diminished positive affect. On the other hand, the Revised Social Anhedonia Scale or RSAS is used to measure clients’ differences in their capacity to feel pleasure from social-interpersonal and physical-sensual sources. 

SAS assesses the deficits in their ability to feel pleasure from non-physical stimuli like conversations and chit-chats. RSAS is a forty-item true-or-false questionnaire, and a higher score indicates that an individual experiences lesser pleasure from social and has lower occupational functioning.

Major Depressive Disorder and Anhedonia

Physical and social anhedonia are rooted in pre-existing depression. If an individual is already struggling with depression and withdrawals from social interaction, then they are possibly experiencing social anhedonia.

Anhedonia is a core depressive criterion in DSM-III. In terms of positive affectivity, anhedonia is a dysfunction in the pleasure cycle. It is a trait that lasts longer and is characterized by diminished energy or eagerness for life, which is considered one of the major depressive symptoms.

Research shows that young adults, especially females, with increased depressive symptoms tend to respond with less positive affect in social engagements than those without depressive symptoms.

Social anhedonia is a type of major depression that leads to less engagement in rewarding social interactions. Without the presence of perceived positive social cues, anhedonia can lead to more social anxiety and withdrawal, thereby maintaining the symptoms of depression.

Anhedonia manifests as an impaired response to reward reactivity, while depression is associated with slower emotional recovery from negative situations. This is anhedonic individuals tend to have depression as one of their underlying issues.

Social Anhedonia and Relationships

Social anhedonia can make relationships with others difficult, as the typical behavioral and neurobiological response of an anhedonic person is to dismiss acceptance and social inclusion.

Every relationship involves shared pleasure and energy, but anhedonia can easily strip these off. Though social anhedonia and major depression are associated, not all depressed individuals are suffering from anhedonia and vice versa. Just like depression, anhedonia also messes up the brain’s dopamine levels.

A neurotransmitter called dopamine is responsible for sending messages between the nerve cells. It plays an important role in our brain’s reward system in providing feelings of pleasure.

Low dopamine levels can trigger mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia. Taking SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors as medications for depression can also treat anhedonia along the way but not in some cases.

Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders and Social Anhedonia

Social Anhedonia is an indicator of a person’s vulnerability in developing schizophrenia spectrum disorders. The reduced ability to experience pleasure is a key negative symptom contributing to social dysfunction. This is why social anhedonia is associated with less social support, problematic family relations, and poorer judgment.

An important key behavior of social communication is to show facial emotions. Reduced emotional expression can have a negative impact on social relationships. Social anhedonia affects developmental and neurobiological factors that can ultimately diminish social functioning.

Anhedonia plays a critical role in the clinical characteristic of schizophrenia. Theorists Meehl and Rado assert that anhedonia is a critical determinant of crippling social impairments and an indicator of genetic vulnerability to schizophrenia.

One systematic review has used three major types of approaches to assess anhedonia in patients with schizophrenia. These are the laboratory-based assessments, interview-based instruments, and self-report trait measures. This assessment approach describes the patients’ psychometric characteristics, the most commonly used paradigms, the relationship of anhedonia to other symptoms, and features of schizophrenia.

Social anhedonia can trigger the development of schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Psychometric high-risk studies show that anhedonia is a promising indicator of psychotic and schizophrenia spectrum disorders and other mental illnesses.

Social anhedonia is a dimension of positive and negative schizotypy. It involves interpersonal and social deficits and can also be associated with disorganized speech and cognitive problems. But, not all patients with schizophrenia suffer from anhedonia.

Individuals who have social anhedonia but do not manifest any cognitive and positive schizotypy symptoms may not always be diagnosed with schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Social anhedonia is usually common in adolescence. This is possible because of their brain’s synaptic pruning and critical neural development, which are important for environmental change and social behavior.

A girl with social anhedonia who is happy to  be alone
Image from Negative Space by Burst

Final Thoughts

Do you think you are struggling with social anhedonia and depression? Then start the search for the best professional therapists who can help you fight this battle with you.  Kentucky Counseling Center has a team of mental health professionals trained to deal with social anhedonia and its related disorders such as substance abuse. 

Individuals who have mental disorders usually turn to alcohol and drugs to cope with symptoms of anhedonia. Our mental health team offers various treatment methods that have alleviated symptoms and helped patients regain control of their lives.

Managing episodes of schizophrenia and depression brought about by social anhedonia is possible with the right mental health treatment and support. Here at Kentucky Counseling Center, we offer helpful techniques and research-based treatments from our experts to support and empower you in your journey.

The inability to experience interest and pleasure in things you used to enjoy can negatively change your life, causing more depression and mental problems in the process. You are not alone, and you don’t have to live with these feelings anymore.

Kentucky Counseling Center has a team of trained and accomplished therapists and counselors who can help you. Book an online appointment with us now and experience the relief and quality care you deserve.

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