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Understanding Shyness Psychology in Action : What causes shyness and what can be done about it?

Understanding Shyness Psychology in Action : What causes shyness and what can be done about it?

Understanding Shyness Psychology in Action : What causes shyness and what can be done about it?

Do you:Find it hard to talk to strangers? • Lack confidence with people? • Feel uncomfortable in social situations? • Feel nervous with people who are not close friends?

As a personality trait, shyness refers to a tendency to avoid others, as well as feelings of anxiety, preoccupation, and social inhibition (uneasiness and strain when socializing) (Bruch, 2001). Shy persons fail to make eye contact, retreat when spoken to, speak too quietly, and display little interest or animation in conversations (Brunet, Mondloch, & Schmidt, 2010). Mild shyness may be no more than a nuisance. However, extreme shy- ness (which may be diagnosed as social anxiety disorder) is often associated with depression, loneliness, fearfulness, social anxiety, inhibi- tion, and low self-esteem (Ashcraft, 2012; Stein & Stein, 2008).

Elements of Shyness What causes shyness? To begin with, shy per- sons often lack social skills (proficiency at interacting with others). Many simply have not learned how to meet people or how to start a conversation and keep it going. Social anxiety (a feeling of apprehension in the presence of others) is also a factor in shyness. Almost everyone feels nervous in some social situations (such as meeting an attractive stranger). Typically, this is a reaction to evaluation.

Conversation One of the simplest ways to make better con- versation is by learning to ask questions. A good series of questions shifts attention to the other person and shows you are inter- ested. Nothing fancy is needed. You can do fine with questions such as, “Where do you (work, study, live)? Do you like (dancing, travel, music)? How long have you (been at this school, worked here, lived here)?” After you’ve broken the ice, the best questions are often those that are open ended (they can’t be answered yes or no):

“What parts of the country have you seen?” (as opposed to, “Have you ever been to Florida?”) “What’s it like living on the West Side?” (as opposed to, “Do you like living on the West Side?”) “What kinds of food do you like?” (as opposed to, “Do you like Chinese cooking?”)

It’s easy to see why open-ended questions are helpful. In replying to open-ended ques- tions, people often give “free information” about themselves. This extra information can be used to ask other questions or to lead into other topics of conversation.

This brief sampling of ideas is no substi- tute for actual practice. Overcoming shyness requires a real effort to learn new skills and test old beliefs and attitudes. It may even require the help of a counselor or therapist. At the very least, a shy person must be willing to take social risks. Breaking down the barriers of shyness will always include some awkward or unsuccessful encounters. Nevertheless, the rewards are powerful: human companionship and personal freedom.

Liking takes time and opportunity to develop.

Unproductive beliefs like the preceding can be replaced with statements such as the following:

1. I’ve got to be active in social situations.

2. I can’t wait until I’m completely relaxed

or comfortable before taking a social risk.

3. I don’t need to pretend to be someone

I’m not; it just makes me more anxious.

4. I may think other people are harshly

evaluating me, but actually I’m being too hard on myself.

5. I can set reasonable goals for expanding my social experience and skills.

6. Even people who are very socially skillful are never successful 100 percent of the time. I shouldn’t get so upset when an encounter goes badly. (Adapted from Antony & Swinson, 2008; Butler, 2001.)

Social Skills Learning social skills takes practice (Carducci & Fields, 2007). There is nothing “innate” about knowing how to meet people or start a conversation. Social skills can be directly prac- ticed in a variety of ways. It can be helpful, for instance, to get a tape recorder and listen to several of your conversations. You may be sur- prised by the way you pause, interrupt, miss cues, or seem disinterested. Similarly, it can be useful to look at yourself in a mirror and exag- gerate facial expressions of surprise, interest, dislike, pleasure, and so forth. By such meth- ods, most people can learn to put more anima- tion and skill into their self-presentation.

contrast, shy people blame themselves for social failures, never give themselves credit for successes, and expect to be rejected ( Jackson et al., 2002).

Shy Beliefs What can be done to reduce shyness? Shyness is often maintained by unrealistic or self- defeating beliefs (Antony & Swinson, 2008; Butler, 2001). Here’s a sample of such beliefs:

1. If you wait around long enough at a social gathering, something will happen.

Comment: This is really a cover-up for fear of starting a conversation. For two people to meet, at least one has to make an effort, and it might as well be you.

2. Other people who are popular are just lucky when it comes to being invited to social events or asked out.

Comment: Except for times when a person is formally introduced to someone new, this is false. People who are more active socially typically make an effort to meet and spend time with others. They join clubs, invite others to do things, strike up conversations, and generally leave little to luck.

3. The odds of meeting someone interested in socializing are always the same, no matter where I am.

Comment: This is another excuse for inaction. It pays to seek out situations that have a higher probability of leading to social contact, such as clubs, teams, and school events.

4. If someone doesn’t seem to like you right away, they really don’t like you and never will.

Comment: This belief leads to much needless shyness. Even when a person doesn’t show immediate interest, it doesn’t mean the person dislikes you.

Knowledge Builder Understanding Shyness

Social anxiety and evaluation fears are seen almost exclusively in shy

individuals; the not shy rarely have such experiences. T or F? 2. Unfamiliar people and situations most often trigger shyness. T or F? 3. Contrary to what many people think, shyness is not related to

a. private self-consciousness b. social anxiety c. self-esteem d. blaming oneself for social failures

4. Shy persons tend to consider their social anxiety to be a a. situational reaction b. personality trait

c. public efficacy d. habit 5. Changing personal beliefs and practicing social skills can be helpful

in overcoming shyness. T or F?

6. Shyness is a trait of Vonda’s personality. Like most shy people, Vonda is most likely to feel shy in unfamiliar social settings. Vonda’s shy behavior demonstrates that the expression of traits is governed by what concept?


If you are shy, see if you can summarize how social skills, social anxiety, evaluation fears, self-defeating thoughts, and public self-consciousness contribute to your social inhibition. If you’re not shy, imagine how you would explain these concepts to a shy friend.

How do psychologists use the term personality?

Personality refers to a person’s consistent and unique

patterns of thinking, emotion, and behavior.

Character is personality evaluated, or the possession

of desirable qualities.

Personality traits are lasting personal qualities that

are inferred from behavior.

Personality types group people into categories on the

basis of shared traits.

A positive self-evaluation leads to high self-esteem.

Low self-esteem is associated with stress, unhappiness, and depression.

Each of the four major theories of personality, trait, psychodynamic, behaviorist and social learning, and humanis- tic, combines interrelated assumptions, ideas, and principles to explain personality.

Are some personality traits more basic or important than others?

Trait theories identify qualities that are most lasting or characteristic of a person.

Allport made useful distinctions between common traits and individual traits and among cardinal, central, and sec- ondary traits.

Cattell’s theory attributes visible surface traits to the existence of 16 underlying source traits.

12.2.4 Source traits are measured by the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16 PF).

12.2.5 The five-factor model identifies five universal dimen- sions of personality: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientious- ness, neuroticism, and openness to experience.

12.3 How do psychodynamic theories explain personality? 12.3.1 Like other psychodynamic approaches, Sigmund

Freud’s psychoanalytic theory emphasizes unconscious forces and conflicts within the personality.

12.3.2 In Freud’s theory, personality is made up of the id, ego, and superego.

12.3.3 Libido, derived from the life instincts, is the primary energy running the personality. Conflicts within the personality may cause neurotic anxiety or moral anxiety and motivate us to use ego-defense mechanisms.

12.3.4 The personality operates on three levels: the con- scious, preconscious, and unconscious.

12.3.5 The Freudian view of personality development is based on a series of psychosexual stages: the oral, anal, phallic, and genital stages. Fixation at any stage can leave a lasting imprint on personality.

12.3.6 Neo-Freudian theorists accepted the broad features of Freudian psychology, but developed their own views. Three representative neo-Freudians are Alfred Adler, Karen Horney, and Carl Jung.

12.4 What are humanistic theories of personality? 12.4.1 Humanistic theories stress subjective experience, free

choice, self-actualization, and positive models of human nature. 12.4.2 Abraham Maslow’s study of self-actualizers showed

that they share traits that range from efficient perceptions of real- ity to frequent peak experiences.

Positive psychologists have identified six human strengths that contribute to well-being and life satisfaction: wis- dom and knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence.

Carl Rogers viewed the self as an entity that emerges from personal experience. We tend to become aware of experi- ences that match our self-image, and exclude those that are incon- gruent with it.

The incongruent person has a highly unrealistic self- image and/or a mismatch between the self-image and the ideal self. The congruent or fully functioning person is flexible and open to experiences and feelings.

In the development of personality, humanists are primarily interested in the emergence of a self-image and in self-evaluations.

As parents apply conditions of worth to children’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings, children begin to do the same. Internalized conditions of worth then contribute to incongruence and disrupt the organismic valuing process.

What do behaviorists and social learning theorists empha- size in their approach to personality?

Behavioral theories of personality emphasize learn- ing, conditioning, and immediate effects of the environment (situational determinants).

Learning theorists John Dollard and Neal Miller consider habits the basic core of personality. Habits express the combined effects of drive, cue, response, and reward.

Social learning theory adds cognitive elements, such as perception, thinking, and understanding to the behavioral view of personality.

Social learning theory is exemplified by Julian Rot- ter’s concepts of the psychological situation, expectancies, and reinforcement value.

The behaviorist view of personality development holds that social reinforcement in four situations is critical. The critical situations are feeding, toilet or cleanliness training, sex training, and anger or aggression training.

Identification and imitation are of particular impor- tance in learning to be “male” or “female.”

How do heredity and environment affect personality? Temperament refers to the hereditary and physiologi-

cal aspects of one’s emotional nature.  Behavioral genetics and studies of identical twins

suggest that heredity contributes significantly to adult personality traits.

Biological predispositions (traits) interact with envi- ronment (situations) to explain our behavior.


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