Children often exhibit behaviors and personality traits that are temporary and do not persist through adulthood. When they cry, pout, or throw a fit, children are expressing their emotions in the only way they know how. As they mature, they develop tools and emotional intelligence so that they can respond to situations in different and more adaptive ways.
But some personality traits and characteristics do persist. Anxiety is one such trait. It may first manifest as shyness in some children, but for many, this shyness develops into anxiety that can have a significant impact on their quality of life. People with high levels of social anxiety may find it challenging to foster strong social relationships and shyness and anxiety may inhibit interactions with others at work, home, and school.
The research on shyness and anxiety has shown some behavioral similarities. But little research has looked at the neurological aspects of anxiety and shyness to determine if there are overlaps and common features shared by both anxiety and shyness. To address this obvious gap in literature, Xun Yang of the Department of Psychiatry at the State Key Lab of Biotherapy and the West China Hospital of Sichuan University in China recently conducted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of 61 nonclinical adult participants. They were evaluated for shyness, social anxiety, and trait anxiety, and then given MRIs to determine if there were any neurological correlations.
Yang discovered that the participants who scored high on the shyness measures had increased density in gray matter and unique functional connectivity in both the limbic and cortical regions of their brains. These areas are involved in the emotional processing of social cues and social stimuli.
“These associations are not found with social or trait anxiety in healthy subjects despite some behavioral correlations with shyness,” said Yang. These results show that even though some shyness may persist into adulthood for some and may develop into anxiety for others, shyness has unique neurological features that set it apart from anxiety in many ways.
Yang, X., Kendrick, K.M., Wu, Q., Chen, T., Lama, S., et al. (2013). Structural and Functional Connectivity Changes in the Brain Associated with Shyness but Not with Social Anxiety. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63151. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063151
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