A study examining best-friend pairs of young adolescents discovered that shy individuals, especially those whose best friend was also shy, exhibited more depressive symptoms. Furthermore, the research revealed that self-silencing acts as a mediator between shyness and symptoms of anxiety. The findings were published in Personality and Individual Differences.
Shyness is a personality trait characterized by feelings of apprehension, discomfort, or nervousness in social situations or when interacting with unfamiliar people. Individuals who are shy often experience heightened self-consciousness and may have difficulty initiating or maintaining conversations. During childhood and adolescence, shyness is one of the most important components of indicators of psychopathology (such as depressive or anxiety symptoms or loneliness).
While shy individuals often face challenges in peer interactions, they are just as likely as their non-shy counterparts to have at least one close friend. Notably, shy youths tend to form bonds with peers who share their shyness. Such friendships, however, are often perceived as lacking in positive qualities. Research into the quality of these friendships revealed that both shy individuals and their closest friends view their relationship as deficient in positive attributes.
Study author Julie C. Bowker and her colleagues wanted to evaluate the relationship between shyness, loneliness, anxiety, depressive symptoms, and friend support during early adolescence. They also wanted to know whether the links between shyness and adverse psychological outcomes might be achieved through self-silencing. Self-silencing is the act of suppressing one’s own thoughts, emotions, or opinions in order to avoid conflict, maintain harmony, or meet the expectations of others. It is often done at the expense of one’s own well-being and authentic self-expression.
Participants of the study were 178 adolescents organized into 89 same-sex bestfriend pairs. They were 14 years old on average. Participants completed assessments of shyness (the Revised Cheek and Buss Shyness Scale), self-silencing (the Expressing My Thoughts and Feelings Measure), loneliness (the Loneliness and Social Dissatisfaction Questionnaire), depressive symptoms and anxiety (descriptive items e.g., “I cry a lot” or “I am nervous or tense”), and friend support (the Network of Relationships Inventory).
The results indicated that shy participants were more inclined to self-silence, felt lonelier, and reported increased depressive and anxiety symptoms. There was no discernible link between perceived friend support and shyness. Those who often self-silenced felt more isolated and perceived diminished friend support.
Further evaluation revealed a correlation between a best friend’s shyness and the participant’s depressive symptoms. Statistical findings suggested that shyness might predispose an individual to self-silencing, which subsequently results in reduced reported anxiety symptoms. The data suggested that while shyness increases anxiety symptoms, it also heightens self-silencing. Consequently, those who often self-silence tend to report fewer anxiety symptoms.
“Findings suggest that friend shyness may foster depressive symptoms in highly shy youth, and that the tendency for shy youth, and to some extent, their friends, to self-silence may hurt the relationship, but help the self (at least in the short-term and in terms of anxiety),” the study authors concluded.
The study sheds light on links between friends and one’s own shyness and various adverse psychological outcomes. However, it also has limitations that need to be taken into account. Notably, the study design does not allow any cause-and-effect conclusions to be made. Additionally, it only focused on friendships of young adolescents. Findings on other age groups might not be the same.
The study, “Understanding shyness and psychosocial difficulties during early adolescence: The role of friend shyness and self-silencing”, was authored by Julie C. Bowker, Chloe L. Richard, Mimi V. Stotsky, Jenna P. Weingarten, and Mariam I. Shafik.