Being shy may not be uncommon for children, but when it endures for us as teens and adults, shyness impedes the kinds of social connections that can enhance our talents and creative expression.
Research is helping explain shyness in terms of brain physiology, particularly involving the amygdala (technically amygdalae) – a pair of structures in the limbic system that processes emotional reactions.
In his article The Evolution of Anxiety , Rich Presta explains, “Whenever you get input from your senses, it gets sent to two different parts of your brain for analysis. One is the frontal cortex… The other is called the amygdala (uh-MIG-duh- luh), which is actually two nerve centers that look like almonds and are located on either side of the thalamus.”
He adds, “The amygdala is old. Real old. It’s part of what is often called the ‘reptilian brain’ because it’s been around since we were virtually reptiles ourselves, and one of the main jobs of the amygdala is assessing danger and keeping us safe.”
One of the key elements of anxiety is getting revved up with the “fight or flight” response that kept us safe from sabretooth tiger attacks – but we can still feel the response when “confronted” by a first date or a job review.
The article Shyness is inherited by Medical News Today reports that “researchers conducted brain scans on 22-year-olds and found that those who had been classified 20 years before as inhibited or shy children had a distinctive reaction in their brains when confronted with novel images.
“People who had been judged as toddlers to be inhibited showed in the scans that the amygdala structure in their brains responded much more actively to unexpected sights than did those subjects who had been judged as children to be more outgoing, said Jerome Kagan, a researcher in the department of psychology at Harvard University.”
The article adds, “Kagan also suggests that shyness is a temperament that can be inherited, but this temperament does not necessarily determine one’s eventual personality.”
“Sometimes because I am very shy, when I meet a director and they are shy too, we just sort of sit there.”
Maybe all this can help explain more about why so many of us were shy as children, and still feel it – often along with other forms of apprehension or anxiety.
It is important to note that shyness is not the same as introversion.
Laurie Helgoe notes in her Psychology Today article: “On the surface, introversion looks a lot like shyness. Both limit social interaction, but for differing reasons.
“The shy want desperately to connect but find socializing difficult, says Bernardo J. Carducci, professor of psychology and director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast. Introverts seek time alone because they want time alone.
“An introvert and a shy person might be standing against the wall at a party, but the introvert prefers to be there, while the shy individual feels she has no choice.” [From Revenge of the Introvert .]