Though it is typical of people to do so, "shyness" is not to be confused with "introversion," nor used synonymously with it. Shyness is marked by a lack of confidence or skill in interacting with other people or participating in social activities. Introversion is just a preference for quiet and solitude (the better to introspect, of course) over noisy gatherings, a tendency to form very close friendships with a choice few people, etc. An introvert is not necessarily socially crippled.

It has even been hypothesized that one can be a shy extrovert. I would tend to agree, from observing the neuroses of my first girlfriend...

This is another paper I wrote for an introductory psychology class. Node Your Homework.

Shyness is difficult to categorize and classify which might be why it is such an alluring topic for research in the social sciences as well as psychology. Many scientists think shyness to be largely a construction of social development but as the research of Jerome Kagan (Carducci & Zimbardo, 1995) has shown physiological elements are also responsible for shyness. The biological approach to understanding shyness helps us categorize it among human survival skills. Unfortunately this survival skill makes living in a society in which constant contact with others and communication are essential taxing for ?nearly one of two Americans? (Carducci & Zimbardo, 1995) who identify themselves as shy.

Shyness began as a protective function (Carducci & Zimbardo, 1995). When confronted with an unfamiliar (and possibly hostile) new environment it can be a natural response. Until a person has determined his surroundings to be friendly and not threatening they cannot expect to relax. When the daily trial of physical dangers receded with the juggernaut of urbanization bringing people closer together and making them more accountable for their actions this timidity in strange environments shifted to a more psychological foundation. Fear of embarrassment replaced physical threats (Carducci & Zimbardo, 1995) as man grew more civilized and socially oriented. The gradual development and refinement of this caution became shyness - a fear of the unfamiliar without strictly rational basis. The thing that makes living in a society of people possible, by inhibiting behavior that may be embarrassing in social situations (Carducci & Zimbardo, 1995) can make unthreatening social interactions equally painful for some.

One important aspect stressed by Are You Shy? is the importance of differentiating between introversion and shyness. Introverts tend to avoid social situations by preference while shy people may lack the proper social skills and confidence for normal social interaction. The shy suffer from acute self-consciousness (Carducci & Zimbardo, 1995) that causes them to keep their thinking self-centered. This can make understanding outside perspectives nearly impossible. The shy person's preoccupation with the speculated perceptions of others might be compared with David Elkind's theory of adolescent egocentrism (Wood & Wood, 1999.) Elkind used the term "imaginary audience"(Wood & Wood, 1999) to define the circle of imaginary peers that continually monitored and judged the actions of the thinker. Given the similarities to the egotistical self-centeredness of adolescents shy people may construct similar circles of imaginary critics.

Even though the actual criticism and social scorn of shyness may be largely in the imagination of the sufferer the costs are not. Fear of exposing oneself to social situations can severely limit the quality of life that a shy person aspires to. Beginning in childhood a shy person can "slip into more solitary activities, even though he wants to be social" (Carducci & Zimbardo, 1995) which may lessen the chances of the child developing social skills and self-esteem later in life.

The isolation created by shyness can also lead to other problems. The possibility for "abuse of alcohol and drugs as social lubricants" looms heavily with the problems associated with chemical dependence so prevalent in the United States. The lack of intimate communication of thoughts and feelings can also cause faulty, unreasoned thinking. Without the checks and balances of dialogue with others the shy person can wander off into vast wastelands of paranoia and delusion (Carducci & Zimbardo, 1995). Referenced as "the Hugh Grant Effect" (Carducci & Zimbardo, 1995) shy people may pay prostitutes to satisfy their unexpressed desires rather than communicating directly with their partner. The fear of sexual failure may also be a barrier for the shy; making both the fore mentioned allure of anonymous sex more attractive and the act of sex within a committed relationship more frightening.

The lack of interpersonal skills can also be a hindrance in other areas of life. Stanford Business School professor Thomas Harrell researched the question of predicting success in ten-year graduates (Carducci & Zimbardo, 1995) and found the highest correlation between success in business and verbal fluency. Shy people are doomed to less prestigious employment according to this hypothesis. While those with more confidence in their ability to speak in front of people or persuade them rise to the higher positions within business the less verbally skilled fall through the cracks. The shy may find themselves making less money not from a lack of skill but from not being able to "talk shop."

With the wide availability and increasing popularity of electronic communications shy people may have more equal opportunities in the workplace. Unfortunately this also provides less opportunities to learn social skills through real interactions with others. The very anonymity of email and other electronic media can create the exact controlled environment that shy people often seek. While this might create a more comfortable neutral ground temporarily the risk of dependence on these methods of communication above others becomes an issue.

The actual impact of shyness on the lives of Americans is difficult to measure. While many people self-identify as shy the actual advantages and disadvantages of their outlook is impossible to accurately assess. With the integration of technology into our daily lives shyness may well become less oppressive to those who suffer from it. At the same time many psychologists will argue that physical communications between humans is essential for us to remain human. Do we want to live in a society where face-to-face meetings are considered awkward? Another question that begs to be answered: how much of the technological mediation we increasingly depend on is motivated by shyness instead of necessity? With increasing numbers online globally the truth will never be known. Maybe shyness will come full circle again to become a survival tool for living in a world where human contact is slowly becoming obsolete.

Works Cited

Carducci, Bernardo J. Ph.D & Zimbardo, Philip G. Ph.D (1995). Are You Shy? In C. Randell (Ed.) Selected Readings in Psychology Sixth Edition (pp. 14-20). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Wood, Ellen Green & Wood, Samuel E. (1999). The World of Psychology Third Edition. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Shy"ness, n.

The quality or state of being shy.

[Written also shiness.]

Frequency in heavenly contemplation is particularly important to prevent a shyness bewtween God and thy soul. Baxter.

Syn. -- Bashfulness; reserve; coyness; timidity; diffidence. See Bashfulness.


© Webster 1913.

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