Social Avoidance and Distress Scale (SADS)

The Social Avoidance and Distress Scale (SADS) is a 28 item true/false scale that measures measures aspects of social anxiety including distress, discomfort, fear and avoidance.

Social avoidance is defined as the desire to escape or actually avoiding being with, talking to, or interacting with others for any reason.

Individuals who score high in the SADS are those who experience anxiety or distress with social interaction or anticipations of social interactions. Geist and Borecki (1982) found that persons high on the SAD had significantly lower levels of self-esteem. High SADS scores indicated significantly lower values of self-confidence, need for affiliation, need for change, and need for dominance (Geist and Borecki 1982).

Validity and Reliability

Watson and Friend (1969) established the psychometric properties of the SADS with 205 university students (145 females and 60 males). The distribution of scores was skewed, with high scores being rare; the modal score was 0. Mean scores differed by sex: males had a mean of 11.2 and females had a mean score of 8.24.

Geist and Borecki (1982) also conducted a validation study with a similar student group, finding similar results. Discriminant and convergent validity from the scale was established through negative correlations with self-confidence, need for affiliation and need for dominance.

Scoring and Interpretation

Scores consist of total raw score (from 0 to 28) and a percentile rank based on Watson and Friend’s validation sample.

The overall mean for this sample was 9.11 and the standard deviation 8.01, although it should be noted that there was a strong positive skew in results. This, combined with the fact that the sample were university students, means that percentiles should be interpreted with caution. Scores can be categories into high, average and low groups as follows:

  • Low Social Anxiety – 0 or 1.
  • Average Social Anxiety – 2 to 11.
  • High Social Anxiety – 12 and up.

Generally the lower scores on the SADS are considered to be most adaptive because they are associated with self-esteem and social engagement, however, individuals who score very low on the SADS have been shown to have a higher need for social control and dominance (Geist & Borecki, 1982). Thus, very low scorers may be resistant to prosocial activities. Higher scorers on the SADS have lower self confidence, lower need for social affiliation, low need for dominance and a high need for deference.


Watson, D., & Friend, R. (1969). Measurement of social-evaluative anxiety. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology; Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 33(4), 448.


Geist and Hamrick, (1983) Journal of Clinical Psychology, September. 1983, Vol. 39, No. 5