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Facts About Shyness

Many people don’t know the basics about shyness. Some people think it’s just something people will grow out of with time. For most people, shyness is learned. But for some, shyness starts in infancy, with about 10 to 15% of newborns born “inhibited” (about as many are born “bold”), but for most shy people shyness is learned at some later time in life with as many as 40 to 60% of adults report being currently shy people.

Shyness can have extreme negative consequences that go beyond not having friends or getting dates, it can affect your health in a variety of ways, your career choice and the amount of money you make, and the general quality of your everyday life.

Shy people are usually introverts, but there are also Shy Extroverts. These people are privately shy but publicly outgoing and comprise an interesting group. They have the social skills but also the social anxiety of shyness in situations where they do not feel the safety of being in their “power spot,” in control, with one-way interactions where all is scripted, with no freedom of exchange, or intimacy. Many are politicians, talk show hosts, actors, journalists, comedians, and college professors, among them, Barbara Walters, Johnny Carson, Gloria Estefan, Carol Burnett, James Gandalfini of recent Sopranos fame, former president Jimmy Carter and many others.

The highest levels of shyness occur in adolescents, with higher levels in girls than boys. Reasons include: bodily changes perceived as awkward or ugly; a rise in sexual feelings and arousal; changes in female body shape reacted to by males in confusing ways; and a new focus on self and privacy.

Technology and affluence may increase the level of shyness in our culture, explained in terms of greater social isolation, less practice in face-to-face conversations, and avoidance of awkward, unfamiliar, and spontaneous interactions.

The negative effects of shyness can be effectively overcome, reduced, and minimized by a variety of treatments.
Major cultural differences in shyness exist between Jewish-Americans and Asian-Americans in our society and Jews and Japanese/Taiwanese in their countries, a difference of about 30 % greater in the Asian populations. In a study of shyness among 18-21 year olds in eight countries, researchers found high levels of shyness in every country studied, thus supporting a claim that shyness is found in all cultures. However, the highest levels found were among the Japanese, Taiwanese and Asian-Hawaiians, with Jewish Americans and Israelis at the low end of the continuum.

Thanks to Brian Cox, PsyD for comments on this article.

Facts About Shyness

Steve Bressert, Ph.D.

Steve Bressert, Ph.D. is a retired professor and clinician in clinical psychology. He writes occasionally for Psych Central and other publications.

APA Reference
Bressert, S. (2020). Facts About Shyness. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
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