Shyness - FFRi

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Encyclopedia of Mental Health
Academic Press, San Diego, CA, 1998

by Ralf Schwarzer (Co-editor), Roxane Cohen Silver (Co-editor), David
Spiegel (Co-editor), Nancy E. Adler (Co-editor), Ross D. Parke (Co-editor),
Christopher Peterson (Co-editor), Howard Friedman (Editor)

Academic Press; 1st edition (January 15,)


Lynne Henderson

The Shyness Clinic
Portola Valley, California

Philip Zimbardo

Stanford University
Stanford, California


. Avoidant Personality Disorder: Chronic and longstanding fear of negative
evaluation and tendency to avoid interpersonal situations without a
guarantee of acceptance and support, accompanied by significant fears of
embarrassment and shame in social interaction.
. Attribution Style: How people assign causality for behavior and events.
. Extroversion: A personal preference for socially engaging activities and
. Introversion: A personal preference for solitary, non-social activities
and settings.
. Shy Extrovert: A person who performs well socially, but experiences
painful thoughts and feelings.
. Self-complexity: holding many different views of the self rather than a
narrow conception.
. Social Fitness: Desired general state of wellness in which the degree of
social participation is determined by personal preference rather than by
discomfort and fears of negative evaluation. Social Fitness assumes a
proactive orientation, adaptive functioning, social empathy, and
responsivity to people and social stimuli.
. Social Fitness Model: Education and training in adaptive social behavior,
thinking patterns, and emotional states.
. Social Anxiety Disorder: A DSM-lV diagnostic category defined as
persistent avoidance and or discomfort in social situations that
significantly interferes with functioning.


Shyness may be defined experientially as discomfort and/or inhibition in
interpersonal situations that interferes with pursuing one's interpersonal
or professional goals. It is a form of excessive self-focus, a
preoccupation with one's thoughts, feelings and physical reactions. It may
vary from mild social awkwardness to totally inhibiting social phobia.
Shyness may be chronic and dispositional, serving as a personality trait
that is central in one's self definition. Situational shyness involves
experiencing the symptoms of shyness in specific social performance
situations but not incorporating it into one's self-concept. Shyness
reactions can occur at any or all of the following levels: cognitive,
affective, physiological and behavioral (see Table 1), and may be triggered
by a wide variety of arousal cues. Among the most typical are: authorities,
one-on-one opposite sex interactions, intimacy, strangers, having to take
individuating action in a group setting, and initiating social actions in
unstructured, spontaneous behavioral settings. Metaphorically, shyness is a
shrinking back from life that weakens the bonds of human connection.
Table 1: Symptoms of Shyness
|Behavior |Physiological |Cognitive |Affective |
|Inhibition and |Accelerated |Negative thoughts about |Embarrassment |
|passivity |heart rate |the self, the situation, |and painful |
| | |and others |self-consciousne|
| | | |ss |
|Gaze aversion |Dry mouth |Fear of negative |Shame |
| | |evaluation and looking | |
| | |foolish to others | |
|Avoidance of |Trembling or |Worry and rumination, |Low self-esteem |
|feared situations|shaking |perfectionism | |
|Low speaking |Sweating |Self-blaming |Dejection and |
|voice | |attributions, |sadness |
| | |particularly after social| |
| | |interactions | |
|Little body |Feeling faint or|Negative beliefs about |Loneliness |
|movement or |dizzy, |the self (weak) and | |
|expression or |butterflies in |others (powerful), often | |
|Excessive nodding|stomach or |out of awareness | |
|or smiling |nausea | | |
|Speech |Experiencing the|Negative biases in the |Depression |
|dysfluencies |situation or |self-concept, e.g., "I am| |
| |oneself as |socially inadequate, | |
| |unreal or |unlovable, unattractive."| |
| |removed | | |
|Nervous |Fear of losing |A belief that there is a |Anxiety |
|behaviors, such |control, going |"correct" protocol that | |
|as touching one's|crazy, or having|the shy person must | |
|hair or face |a heart attack |guess, rather than mutual| |
| | |definitions of social | |
| | |situations | |



The percentage of adults in the United States reporting that they are
chronically shy, such that it presents a problem in their lives, had been
reported at 40%, plus or minus 3%, since the early 1970's. Recent research
indicates that the percentage of self-reported shyness has escalated
gradually in the last decade to nearly 50% (48.7% + /- 2%). The National Co-
morbidity Survey in 1994 revealed a lifetime prevalence of social phobia of
13.3%, making it the third most prevalent psychiatric disorder. The
comparison of the two disparate results suggests that the proportion of the
population suffering from chronic, even debilitating, shyness is not
reflected in the numbers of people who visit anxiety disorders clinics.
Most referrals to shyness clinics meet criteria for generalized social
phobia, and many meet criteria for avoidant personality disorder. Although
it has been suggested that there is a greater heterogeneity of presentation
among shy people than among those diagnosable with generalized social
phobia, both shys and those with generalized social phobias demonstrate
similar difficulties with meeting people, initiating and maintaining
conversations, deepening intimacy, interacting in small groups and in
authority situations, and with self-assertion. Other frequent co-morbid
diagnoses are dysthymia, alcohol or substance abuse, generalized anxiety
disorder, specific phobias, dependent personality disorder, and schizoid
personality disorder. Obsessive-compulsive personality and paranoid
personality are also seen. Chronically shy individuals frequently have
obsessive and or paranoid tendencies.
Research has distinguished shyness from introversion, although they are
typically related. Introverts simply prefer solitary to social activities
but do not fear social encounters as do the shy, while extroverts prefer
social to solitary activities. Although the majority of shy are
introverted, shy extroverts are found in many behavioral settings. They are
privately shy and publicly outgoing. They have the requisite social skills
and can carry them out flawlessly in highly structured, scripted situations
where everyone is playing prescribed roles and there is little room for
spontaneity. However, their basic anxieties about being found personally
unacceptable, if anyone discovered their "real self," emerge in intimate
encounters or other situations where control must be shared or is
irrelevant, or wherever the situation is ambiguous in terms of social
demands and expectations.


Prior to 1970, virtually all research on shyness was focused exclusively on
children, especially adolescents, studied by developmental psychologists
usually relying on reports of teachers and parents. However, that changed
in the early seventies with research instituted by the Stanford Shyness
Research Program, headed by Philip Zimbardo. Zimbardo's interest in shyness
in adults stemmed from observations made in a mock prison study he and his
colleagues conducted in 1971. Preselected normal, healthy college student
participants played the randomly-assigned roles of prisoners and guards
within a simulated prison environment. The scheduled 2-week study had to be
terminated after only 6 days because of the pathology that became evident
in the "breakdowns" of those playing the prisoner role in response to the
sadistic use of power by the student- guards. Many of the prisoners adapted
to a shocking degree to the coercive and arbitrary tactics of behavior
control imposed arbitrarily by the guards. They seemed to need desperately
the approval and acceptance of their guards, from whom they rarely got it,
and ended up trading autonomy for the role of "good prisoner,"
internalizing negative images of themselves in the process. The guard
mentality is designed around ways to limit prisoners' freedom of action,
thought and association in order to more easily manage prisoner behavior
individually and collectively. The prisoners, in this dynamic dyadic
interaction, are cast in a reactive mold to either rebel and get punished
for their heroism, or conform to the coercive rules, and though "good
prisoners," come to despise themselves fo