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Objective: Network analysis allows us to identify the most interconnected (i.e., central) symptoms, and multiple authors have suggested that these symptoms might be important treatment targets. This is because change in central symptoms (relative to others) should have greater impact on change in all other symptoms. It has been argued that networks derived from cross-sectional data may help identify such important symptoms. We tested this hypothesis in social anxiety disorder.
Method: We first estimated a state-of-the-art regularized partial correlation network based on participants with social anxiety disorder (N = 910) to determine which symptoms were more central. Next, we tested whether change in these central symptoms were indeed more related to overall symptom change in a separate dataset of participants with social anxiety disorder who underwent a variety of treatments (N = 244). We also tested whether relatively superficial item properties (infrequency of endorsement and variance of items) might account for any effects shown for central symptoms.
Results: Centrality indices successfully predicted how strongly changes in items correlated with change in the remainder of the items. Findings were limited to the measure used in the network and did not generalize to three other measures related to social anxiety severity. In contrast, infrequency of endorsement showed associations across all measures.
Conclusions: The transfer of recently published results from cross-sectional network analyses to treatment data is unlikely to be straightforward.