People are not born shy, according to Bernardo Carducci, a professor of psychology at Indiana University Southeast. In a recent paper, Carducci, director of IU Southeast’s Shyness Research Institute, argues that people are not born shy. Carducci, author of Shyness: A Bold New Approach (Harper Perennial, 2000), said that shyness is characterized by excessive self-consciousness, negative self-evaluation and self-preoccupation. All three characteristics involve a sense of self, which Carducci said does not exist at birth.
‘The question of the origin of the sense of self has been of interest to not only shyness researchers, but also some of the world’s greatest thinkers,’ said Carducci. ‘Charles Darwin proposed as early as the 1870s that a child’s sense of self originates when the child is first able to recognize themselves in a mirror ‘ something that doesn’t occur until the child is approximately 18 months old.’
Carducci said early childhood shyness often is confused with an inhibited temperament ‘ a biological condition characterized by excessive physiological and behavioral reactions to environmental stimuli, present in about 20 percent of newborns.
Infants with an inhibited temperament kick their legs and feet more often, are prone to longer and louder bouts of crying and have higher heart rates.
Toddlers with inhibited temperament, Carducci said, exhibit behaviors associated with shyness, such as playing alone and hiding in the presence of strangers. ‘An inhibited temperament is not the same as shyness, nor does it guarantee that an inhibited infant will be a shy adult, or that an uninhibited infant will not grow up to be shy,’ said Carducci.
He also noted that while only about one in five infants exhibit this condition at birth, research over the last 25 years indicates that 40 to 43 percent of adults surveyed consider themselves to be shy. In his work with shy people, Carducci found that only about 9 percent of the people he’s spoken to believe they were born shy. ‘Family factors’ are the leading reason attributed to shyness, in Carducci’s research.
‘About 40 percent of the people I survey cite such factors as a lack of family support, parental absence, parents not teaching social skills, overprotective parents, parental neglect and other family-related issues for their shyness,’ Carducci said. ‘Other categories I’ve found for self-perceived shyness are psychological problems, an abusive past and physical appearance or impairments. Obviously, these are not characteristics that people are born with.’
To deal effectively with shyness, Carducci said it’s important for shy people to understand the characteristics of shyness, like excessive self-preoccupation and self-consciousness. Carducci said shy people should try to shift their focus from themselves to others by getting involved in activities like volunteering.
‘The successfully shy don’t change who they are. They change the actions they take and the way they think,’ Carducci said. ‘Understanding that shyness is caused by a combination of emotional reactions, selective beliefs, and environmental factors is part of this process. Once shy individuals understand the nature and underlying dynamics of their shyness, they are in a better position to take actions to control it.’