Marketing Shyness and Neurotransmitters

Christopher Lane, author of Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness, was recently interviewed by the Chicago Tribune. I got this courtesy of Ken Pope. Here’s how the interview ended:

Q: The diagnosis “social anxiety disorder” opened up a huge new market
for drug companies marketing SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake
inhibitors). What happened?

A: Basically, as soon as SmithKline Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKline) got
FDA approval to sell Paxil as a treatment for social anxiety
disorder … they ran a very expensive public awareness campaign. It was
the “Imagine being allergic to people” campaign. It cost them $93
million – $3 million more than Pfizer spent that year on Viagra.

As they bragged in Advertising Age, it was a way of increasing the
number of diagnoses and creating a new market. First they had to
convince people they weren’t just shy – that they had social anxiety disorder.

Q: Why would people accept that diagnosis?

A: It’s a fascinating question, and a complicated one. You have the
apparent reassurance of a scientific label. You can say, my problem
isn’t to do with me or my psychology or my upbringing.

The label is a strange distancing device. Because it means one needn’t
really think about oneself in the process. It’s really a question of my

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Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.


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Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

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