What it’s like being shy

"Up until now, people thought that [shyness] was mostly related to
avoidance of social situations," says co-author and child psychiatrist
Monique Ernst. "Here we showed that shy children have increased
activity in the reward system of the brain as well."

Why this
would be the case is still not clear. "One interpretation is that
extremely shy children have an increased sensitivity to many types of
stimuli–both frightening and rewarding," says Guyer. There are other
possibilities as well, says Mauricio Delgado, a psychologist at Rutgers
University in Newark, New Jersey. For example, increased activity in
the striatum may help shy children cope with the anxiety of stressful
situations, although not enough so to help them overcome their shyness.

…Because shy children
appear to be more sensitive to winning and losing, they may experience
emotions more strongly than others, putting them at risk for emotional
disorders such as anxiety and depression. On the flip side, shy
children may experience positive emotions such as success very
strongly, helping them succeed…

OK, that is from scans of only 32 people, 13 of them shy.  But that is actually more than usual for such a study.  Here is the link.  Here is Jonathan Rauch’s famous piece on being an introvert, well worth reading. 

Chris Masse sends me further neuro links, here and here.  Here is a recent neuro study on how women react to erotic images.


"'One interpretation is that extremely shy children have an increased sensitivity to many types of stimuli--both frightening and rewarding,' says Guyer."

The 1996 book "The Highly Sensitive Person" made the same point in a more impressionistic way.

I was extremely shy, now less so but still so. We have high anxiety around crowds and groups because we get sensory overload. It took me awhile to figure this out, but its why I prefer quieter and smaller clubs when I go out, and very small groups to big parties. Shy people have a remarkably hard time romantically, but we tend to be very good at keeping ourselves occupied. I rarely get bored. Its very easy for me to take an interest in many things, or amuse myself with my thoughts. Exrtoverts dependence on constatntly being connected to others (think useless cell phone conversations) I find hard to understand.

But we are more sensitive (not necessarily in an emotional way, just physically) and we find oftentimes that lots of interaction and conversation with others and large group situations are overwhelming. This is the key to understanding shyness.

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