hands, "freezing" so that working together seems impossible, and so
demand treatment. A good but somewhat academic discussion of
"social anxiety" is by Leary & Kowalski (1995).
Jerome Kagan, researching child development for over 30 years,
found only one trait that was fairly consistent from age 2 to 20; that
was shyness. Other traits--aggression, dependency, competitiveness--
change as we develop. But social inhibition remains so constant and is
so similar from parent to child or in identical twins that Kagan
concluded that shyness was, in part, genetically determined--a part of
our inheritance, a part of our hardware. Shy (15% are "inhibited")
children can apparently be identified as early as 2 to 4-months-old--
and 50% of shy 2-year-olds are still extremely shy at 7 or 8. Placed in
a strange situation, the extremely shy child of 2 or 3 is hyperactive,
irritable, nervous, cries a lot, has a fast heart rate, etc. When forced to
interact with strangers, he/she is inhibited, unresponsive to strangers,
unwilling to take risks, and tense doing motor tasks. These shy
children were also more likely to be colicky, allergy-prone infants, and
by age 7 or 8 had more fears about speaking in class, going to camp,
being in the dark, etc. Even 30 years later, shy children are different:
shy boys marry later, are more apt to get divorced, enter careers later
and do less well (Caspi, Elder & Bem, 1988). Shy girls are less likely to
have careers when they grow up. Non-shy children (15% are
"uninhibited") were sociable, fearless, and spontaneous with strangers.
Shyness is likely to limit and reduce our joy of living; it may be with us
a lifetime. Yet, we are not slaves to our genes.
Two thirds of us, including the shy, continue to think that shyness
is caused by family experiences, overprotective or critical parents,
abuse by peers, etc., i.e. by experience. Research assigns more blame
to innate factors, which can be modified by experience. Hopefully,
knowing that genes partly determine shyness will not discourage shy
people or parents, teachers, and other helpers of shy kids. Clearly
shyness can be changed because it does change over the years. It has
been said "genes only set the stage, you get to write your life script."
Sensitive, nurturing parents helped 40% of Kagan's inhibited children
overcome their handicap by age 5 or 6. He advises parents to face the
problem, protect the children from trauma, such as family fights,
pushy older siblings, criticism or demands for excellence, etc., help
them with social skills, and gently nudge them into social contacts. It
is important that children know they are loved unconditionally, not just
if they are "good." Seeing painfully shy children and adults as victims
of their genes may help us be more sympathetic and spur the schools
and helping professions to find better ways to cope with shyness.
Shyness doesn't "just go away," explicit efforts are needed.
No one likes to be shy, so in their secret struggle with this problem
almost all shy people try to "get over" the condition, often
unsuccessfully (remember it is in our genes). To do this, they force
themselves to interact, to think positively, and to relax while
interacting by using drugs and alcohol. Some of these efforts are on