Study reveals brain marker for shyness in children

Researchers have identified a pattern of electrical brain activity that predicts shyness in children. The findings, which appear in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, provides new information about the neurobiological foundations of shyness.

“Although research has examined developmental outcomes of shyness, we know comparably less about the developmental origins of shyness. We were interested in this topic in order to further our understanding of how biological processes may be related to the longitudinal development of shyness in childhood,” said study author Kristie Poole, a PhD Candidate in Developmental Psychology at McMaster University.

The study of 37 children and their mothers found that frontal electroencephalogram (EEG) asymmetry was associated with increases in shyness in boys and girls.

“We examined how patterns of frontal brain activity in children were related to their levels of shyness across five repeated assessments spanning age 6 to 8 years. Previous work has illustrated the individuals with greater relative right frontal brain activity may have underlying biases to process, experience, and express the emotion of fear,” Poole told PsyPost.

“Given that shyness has been hypothesized to be related to the emotion of fear, we wished to see how right frontal brain activity was related to the development of shyness. We found that children with greater relative right frontal brain activity experienced increases in shyness from age 6 to 8 years.”

“These preliminary findings suggest that biological correlates of fear processing may be related to shyness in early childhood.”

But the study — like all research — includes some limitations.

“The results should be interpreted with appropriate caution as the sample size was relatively small. As well, maternal-report of shyness was used, which is subject to reporting biases. It will be important for future work to replicate the preliminary findings using a larger sample of children and additional measures of shyness,” Poole said.

“It is important to note that in the current study we examined one predictor of shyness. We acknowledge that there are multiple additional influences on the development of shyness beyond brain activity including genes and environmental factors such as peers and parents.”

The study, “Frontal Brain Asymmetry and the Trajectory of Shyness Across the Early School Years“, Kristie L. Poole, Diane L. Santesso, Ryan J. Van Lieshout, and Louis A. Schmidt.