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J Anxiety Disord. 2002;16(6):585-98.

Scrutinizing the relationship between shyness and social phobia.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego, La Jolla 92093-0985, USA.


The nature of the relationship between shyness and social phobia can be clarified by assessing rates of social phobia in highly shy and normative samples. In the present study, 2202 participants were screened and categorized on a shyness scale as highly shy (90th percentile) or "normatively" shy (40-60th percentile). The Composite International Diagnostic Interview and the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Axis II Personality Disorders (SCID-II; Avoidant Personality Disorder module) were used to assign clinical diagnoses. Approximately 49% of individuals in the highly shy group had a social phobia diagnosis compared to 18% in the normatively shy group. Significantly more generalized social phobia (36% vs. 4%) and avoidant personality disorder (14% vs. 4%) diagnoses were present in the highly shy group compared to the normatively shy group. Equal rates of nongeneralized social phobia (i.e., 14% vs. 14%) were present in the highly shy and the normatively shy comparison group. Findings suggest that shyness and social phobia (especially the generalized type) are related constructs but not completely synonymous; an individual can be extremely shy yet not have a social phobia diagnosis.

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