The Concept Of Shyness In Psychology And Its Relation To Anxiety: [Essay Example], 1611 words (2023)

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“My feelings are too loud for words and too shy for the world”

(Video) Shakespeare II - Sep 22 | Lifelong Learning

– Dejan Stojanovic

Shyness is the term, used to label the emotional state of feeling anxious and inhibited in social situations. From a social psychological perspective, situations differ in their power to elicit reactions of social anxiety. Shyness is the awkwardness or apprehension some people feel when approaching or being approached by other people. Shyness refers to an anxiety that a person has in social situations that usually has 3 parts, a feeling of emotional arousal and specific physical effects such as nausea, acute self-consciousness and being cautious and quiet (Nugent, Pam M. S. 2013). Shyness is defined as an anxious preoccupation of the self in response to real or imagined social interactions (Melchoir & Cheek, 1990).

Shyness is characterized by active avoidance of social contact (Rubin, Stewart, & Coplan, 1995) due to fear of social scrutiny and embarrassment, feelings of negative self-worth (Crozier, 1981), low self-esteem (Schmidt & Fox, 1995), anxiety (Hirshfeld et al. , 1992), and occasionally depression. Unlike introverts, who feel energized by time alone, shy people often desperately want to connect with others, but don’t know how or can’t tolerate the anxiety that comes with human interaction. Ratings of shyness-eliciting events reveal that interactions with strangers, especially those of the opposite sex or in positions of authority, encounters requiring assertive behavior, and explicitly evaluative settings such as job interviews provoke the strongest feelings of social anxiety. Quietness, gaze aversion, and awkward body language are the most common behavioral signs of shyness. New and unfamiliar situations can bring out shy feelings like the first day of school, meeting someone new, or speaking in front of a group for the first time.

People feel shy when they’re not sure how to act, don’t know how others will react, or when attention is on them. People are less likely to feel shy in situations where they know what to expect, feel sure of what to do or say, or are among familiar people. Shy feelings can be mild, medium, or intense but, it depends on the situation and the person. People who feel shy often or at times, might think of themselves as a shy person. Shy people may be a good listener and they may hesitate to try out new things. They usually take much time to get with new people and situations. Sometimes being quiet and introverted is a sign that someone has a naturally shy personality. But that’s not always the case. Being quiet is not always the same as being shy (D’Arcy Lyness, 2016). Recent research supports the negative image of the trait by documenting how shyness can be a barrier to personal well-being, social adjustment, and occupational fulfillment. Some people prefer to spend time alone rather than with others but also feel comfortable when they are in social settings. Such people are non-anxious introverts, who may be unsociable but are not shy. The opposite of shyness is social self-confidence, not extraversion. The problem for truly shy people is that their anxiety prevents them from participating in social life when they want to or need to.

Below are some of the factors that leads to shyness

  • Lack of self-confidence: Low self-esteem or lack of self-confidence can force the brain to try to protect the person by making him shy.
  • Inferiority complex: feelings of inferiority could lead to shyness. If a person felt worthless he would be too reluctant to express himself or to interact with people.
  • Perfectionism: Perfectionism can lead to shyness. If a person wanted to say everything perfectly then he might end up speaking much less and so becoming shy.
  • Lack of social skills: When a person lacks proper social skills he will become self-inhibited around others and he might become shy because of not finding anything to say.
  • Self-image problems: Any kind of self-inhibiting thoughts can lead to shyness. Since self-image issues can lead to self-inhibition around others they can lead to shyness.
  • Fear of people: A bad past or a dysfunctional family can lead to many problems such as fear of intimacy or fear of people (Radwan, 2007).

Shyness is a personality trait that affects a child’s temperament. Some infants are born shy and more sensitive. Some of them are quiet when they meet new people or might sink his/her head into his/her mother’s shoulder. Some children may feel shy in certain situations, like when meeting new people. Other children may learn to be shy because of experiences in school or at home. As of 2004, research tended to distinguish shyness from introversion. Introverts simply prefer solitary to social activities but do not fear social encounters as shy people do, while extroverts prefer social to solitary activities. Eysenck (1947) believed that most individual differences in personality could be explained by varying and interacting levels of neuroticism and extraversion. The initial concept of shyness was rooted in this interaction. Individuals low on extraversion and high on neuroticism were characterized as being socially shy. A distinction can be made between individuals who are introverted and individuals who are characterized as temperamentally shy.

For example, both introverted and shy children may prefer to be alone and engage in solitary play activities; however, an introverted child does not typically display overt signs of anxiety and is unlikely to experience difficulties in social interactions. On the other hand, an extremely shy child is likely to display overt signs of distress and experience problems when attempting to enter social situations (Schmidt & Fox, 1999). Over the last two decades, there has been an increase in the amount of research dedicated to the study of shyness. Shyness is a common and pervasive phenomenon that over 90% of the general population has reported experiencing at some point in their lives (Zimbardo, 1977). Temperamental shyness is a personality feature that emerges during early infancy and is characterized by a more severe and persistent form of shyness and social withdrawal. Ten to fifteen percent of people experience temperamental shyness (Kagan, 1994). Research shows, however, that 25 percent of the time genetic predisposition to shyness does not develop into shyness. Some researchers believe that a shy temperament may require environmental triggers, such as insecurity of attachment in the form of difficult relationships with parents, family conflict or chaos, frequent criticism, a dominating older sibling, or a stressful school environment. Although decades of research have been dedicated to studying human shyness, problems with adequately defining shyness persist.

Researchers in the field have used numerous terms interchangeably to characterize and study similar constructs such as social reticence, social isolation, social withdrawal, social anxiety, social phobia, introversion, timidity, low sociability, social inhibition, social wariness, and behavioral inhibition (Rubin & Asendorpf, 1993; Schmidt & Buss, 2010). Shyness was originally believed to be a unitary construct (Pilkonis, 1977a, b); however, due to disagreement regarding the conceptualization of shyness, some have suggested that the construct of shyness is multidimensional (Crozier, 1981). Different subtypes of shyness have since been proposed. Buss (1986) suggested that there are at least two types of shyness: a fearful shyness and a self-conscious shyness.

According to Buss, fearful shyness emerges early in development during ages 6-12 months and is associated with the infant’s fear of strangers. Fearful shyness does not require self-awareness and is associated with inhibition in novel situations. Self-conscious shyness is a later-developing subtype of shyness that emerges around 3 to 4 years of age and coincides with the development of self-awareness, perspective taking, embarrassment, and self-conscious emotions. Self-conscious shyness involves an individual’s ability to assume a detached-observer perspective toward the self. Empirical evidence suggests differences between the two shyness subtypes on multiple levels. Bruch, Giordano, and Pearl (1986) reported that the two subtypes differed on self-report measures of behavioral inhibition, social skills, and somatic anxiety. Fearfully shy adults experienced greater difficulties in these areas.

Results also indicated that fearful shyness had an earlier onset than self-conscious shyness. Schmidt and Robinson (1992) found that fearfully shy adults had significantly lower self-esteem than self-consciously shy adults. According to Asendorpf’s approach-avoidance heuristic framework, shyness develops from an approach-avoidance conflict (individuals who score high on social approach and social avoidance). Children who are socially shy wish to engage in play activities with their peers but cannot successfully enter the social playgroup. Shy children are contrasted with avoidant children (individuals who score low on social approach and high on social avoidance). Individuals who score low on social approach and low on social avoidance are described as introverts, and those who score high on social approach and low on social avoidance are characterized as sociable. Each of these subtypes of shyness yields different developmental and psychosocial outcomes (Rubin & Asendorpf, 1993). Shy children experience high levels of anxiety during socially evaluative situations (Fox et al. , 1995), whereas children who are described as avoidant are typically socially withdrawn and may experience greater depression (Rubin et al. , 1995).

There are a range of measurable correlates of shyness that are found in children and adults. These correlates include: psychophysiological (e. g. , high morning and daytime cortisol levels, right frontal brain electrical asymmetry, and heightened baseline heart rate; Beaton et al. , 2006; Schmidt, 1999; Schmidt, Santesso, Schulkin, & Segalowitz, 2007); cognitive/affective (e. g. , low self-worth, loneliness, distress, negative emotional intensity, dispositional negative affect, depression, and neuroticism, low self-esteem, anxious thoughts, heightened negative emotion; Ashbaugh, Antony, McCabe, Schmidt, & Swinson, 2005; Brunet & Schmidt, 2007, 2008; Crozier, 1981); behavioral (e. g. , behavioral inhibition, startle response, gaze aversion, reduction in speech, poor development of social skills, competence and less assertiveness, Pilkonis, 1977a,b; Snidman & Kagan, 1994); and psychosocial (e. g. , social anxiety disorder, substance use disorders, eating disorders; Beidel & Turner, 1998; Zuckerman, 1994; Bulik, Sullivan, Weltzin, & Kaye, 1995).


What is the connection between shyness and anxiety? ›

Shyness can turn into social anxiety if it causes someone to routinely avoid, worry, or analyze social interactions. If someone feels anxious about their shyness, they may develop negative thought patterns about inferiority or incompetence. Over time, these thought patterns can trigger anxiety symptoms.

What is shyness in psychology? ›

Shyness is the tendency to feel awkward, worried, or tense during social encounters, especially with unfamiliar people.

What is the difference between shyness and anxiety? ›

Shyness is most certainly a form of social anxiety, so in that sense, they're the same. But social anxiety usually refers to social phobia, which is a type of anxiety that can reduce your quality of life and make it very hard to be social. Human beings crave social behaviors. It's part of who we are.

Is shyness a psychological problem? ›

Many suffer from more than just shyness, experts say. They have a condition called social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia. The condition has been officially recognized as a psychiatric disorder since 1980.

What causes shyness psychology? ›

Shyness is often described as being uncomfortable in social situations, especially when coming into contact with new people. A key reason why a person may feel uncomfortable in a social setting is that they may be heavily self-critical of their behaviour and how it will be understood.

How is shyness measured in psychology? ›

An often used measure of shyness is the Social A voidance and Distress Scale developed by Watson & Friend (1969). It was designed to measure social- evaluative anxiety in conjunction with the Fear of Negative Evaluation Scale.

Can you have anxiety without being shy? ›

There is a difference between shyness and social anxiety. We agree with Chris that social anxiety disorder is not shyness. A shy person may have social anxiety disorder, and they may not. A person who meets the diagnostic criteria for social anxiety disorder may be shy, but they may not have this personality trait.

What is the problem of shyness? ›

Shyness (also called diffidence) is the feeling of apprehension, lack of comfort, or awkwardness especially when a person is around other people. This commonly occurs in new situations or with unfamiliar people; a shy person may simply opt to avoid these situations.

Can shyness turn into social anxiety? ›

Avoidance of social activities is also much less common with those who are shy. Although most with social anxiety experience symptoms of shyness, being shy does not mean you will have social anxiety. Less than 25% of shy individuals in the US have symptoms that meet the diagnostic criteria for social anxiety disorder.

How does shyness affect the brain? ›

The study, recently published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, found that individuals who identified themselves as inhibited may experience habituation failure -- or the inability to adapt to new stimuli -- in the amygdala and the hippocampus regions of the brain.

What are the theories of shyness? ›


A shy person may minimize his or her shyness based upon cognitive mediation, motivation, and self-awareness. This implicit theory of shyness is based on both entity theorists, who believe that personality is fixed, and incremental theorists, who believe that personality is dynamic.

What part of the brain controls shyness? ›

Functional connectivity correlations with shyness were found between the superior temporal gyrus, parahippocampal gyrus and the frontal gyri, between the insula and precentral gyrus and inferior parietal lobule, and between the cerebellum and precuneus.

How many types of shyness are there? ›

According to Dr. Jonathan Cheek, professor of psychology at Wellesley College, there are actually four different types of shyness.

What are two ways to measure shyness? ›

We compared the ability of two direct measures of trait-shyness (Revised Shyness scale, Social Anxiety scale) and two typological measures (additive and interactive versions of neurotic-introversion) to predict peer-rated shyness and talk-time in leaderless groups.

Which anxiety disorder is more than shyness? ›

Are you afraid of being judged by others? Are you self-conscious in everyday social situations? Do you avoid meeting new people due to fear or anxiety?

What is the best therapy for shyness? ›

Cognitive behavioral therapy and individual talk therapy in general have helped some people cope with shyness, especially when shyness manifests in habits (fidgeting, avoiding eye contact) that can be addressed individually.

How can I overcome shyness paragraph? ›

From shy to fly
  1. Baby steps are the way to go. ...
  2. Remember the excellent stuff about you. ...
  3. Why are you shy? ...
  4. They're not looking at you. ...
  5. Shift your focus. ...
  6. Self-talk yourself up. ...
  7. Don't avoid social situations altogether, even if they make you nervous and uncomfortable. ...
  8. Practise your social skills.

Why is it important to overcome shyness? ›

It might impact your self-esteem or your self-confidence. Shy people have trouble making new friends. Plus, feeling shy can stop people from public speaking and having a busy social life. Because social interactions are essential, shyness tarnishes that part of life away from people.

Does shyness mean lack of confidence? ›

Many people confuse shyness, a lack of confidence, low self-belief, and introversion as being one and the same, but they are not. Shyness, a lack of confidence and low self-belief aren't exclusive to introverts because extroverts can also be shy, lack confidence and be low in self-belief.

What is the purpose of shyness? ›

You Appear More Approachable. When shyness is not extreme, it can make you appear more approachable to others. Shyness, and the modesty and self-effacing nature that go with it, are rarely threatening to others and may allow people to feel more comfortable around you.

Is shyness a trauma response? ›

Shyness is a trait that can be a result of environmental factors. These factors can stem from emotional abuse, ridicule and other forms of child abuse, but not always.

What is shy personality called? ›

adjective. lacking self-confidence. synonyms: diffident, timid, unsure.

How do I overcome social anxiety and shyness? ›

8 Tips for Overcoming Social Anxiety and Shyness
  1. Incorporate probiotics.
  2. Reduce caffeine and alcohol.
  3. Consider therapy.
  4. Practice smiling.
  5. Leave your comfort zone.
  6. Bring in fun.
  7. Talk with a friend.
  8. Interrogate worries.

Is shyness a type of fear? ›

Shyness is a feeling of fear or discomfort caused by other people, especially in new situations or among strangers. It's an unpleasant feeling of self-consciousness — a fear of what some people believe others are thinking. This fear can inhibit a person's ability to do or say what they want.

How to overcome shyness? ›

9 ways to overcome shyness
  1. Start small. ...
  2. Explore what you're good at. ...
  3. Stop thinking that everyone is looking at you. ...
  4. Don't self-sabotage or avoid social situations. ...
  5. Welcome setbacks. ...
  6. Name it. ...
  7. Understand why you're shy. ...
  8. Surround yourself with supportive people.
Jul 6, 2022

Does shyness affect social anxiety? ›

Many people who are shy do not have the negative emotions and feelings that accompany social anxiety disorder. They live a normal life, and do not view shyness as a negative trait. While many people with social anxiety disorder are shy, shyness is not a pre-requisite for social anxiety disorder.

Is shyness a positive or negative trait? ›

Shyness has generally been investigated as a negative and unpleasant emotional state, strongly related to social anxiety and loneliness. However, recent evidence has suggested that shyness may have a positive and socially adaptive form.

What part of the brain is responsible for shyness? ›

Functional connectivity correlations with shyness were found between the superior temporal gyrus, parahippocampal gyrus and the frontal gyri, between the insula and precentral gyrus and inferior parietal lobule, and between the cerebellum and precuneus.

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