Fears and fear-related cognitions in children with selective mutism

  • Felix VogelEmail author
  • Angelika Gensthaler
  • Julia Stahl
  • Christina Schwenck
Original Contribution


Selective mutism (SM) is classified under the category of anxiety disorders in DSM-5 [1], although concrete fears that underlie the condition are not specified contrary to all other anxiety disorders. Given the lack of studies systematically investigating fears in SM, content and frequency of concrete fears as well as related cognitions have remained unclear so far. One hundred and twenty-four participants [M = 13.25 years (SD = 3.24), range 8–18 years] with SM (n = 65), social phobia (SP n = 18) or with typical development (TD n = 51) took part in an online survey. Participants with SM (n = 65) answered an open-ended question concerning fears that might cause the consistent failure to speak in select situations. Additionally, participants with SM, SP and TD completed a survey containing 34 fear-related cognitions that might occur in speech-demanding situations. Open text answers were systematically evaluated by extracting higher-order categories using a Qualitative Content Analysis. Single item scores of the survey were compared between the three groups. 59% of all spontaneously reported fears were assigned to the cluster of social fears. Other reported fears represented the categories fear of mistakes (28%), language-related fears (8%) and voice-related fears (5%). The SM- and SP group only differed regarding the cognition that one’s own voice might sound funny (SM > SP). Social fears and the fear of mistakes account for the majority of fears in SM. Therefore, future interventions should consider specifically targeting these types of fears.


Selective mutism Social phobia Social anxiety Fear Self-focused attention Perfectionism 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

The study was approved by the local ethics committee of the Deparmtent of Psychology of the University of Giessen and therefore has been performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments. All persons who were included in this study gave their informed consent prior to the beginning of their participation.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Special Needs Educational and Clinical Child and Adolescent PsychologyJustus-Liebig-University of GiessenGiessenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and PsychotherapyUniversity Hospital Frankfurt am MainFrankfurtGermany

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