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Dev Psychobiol. 1997 Mar;30(2):127-40.

Behavioral and neuroendocrine responses in shy children.

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  • 1Institute for Child Study, University of Maryland, College Park 20742, USA.


Previous research has shown that infants who display a high frequency of motor activity and negative affect at 4 months of age are likely to be behaviorally inhibited toddlers. We examined social behaviors, maternal report of temperament, salivary cortisol, and baseline startle responses at age 4 in a sample of children, some of whom displayed a high frequency of motor activity and negative affect at 4 months of age. Infants who displayed this temperamental profile were reported by their mothers as more shy at age 4 compared with other children. We also found that 4-year-olds who displayed a high frequency of wary behavior during peer play exhibited relatively high morning salivary cortisol, were reported as contemporaneously shy by their mothers, and were behaviorally inhibited at 14 months of age. There were no significant relations found between baseline startle and morning salivary cortisol and measures of shyness at age 4. We speculate that high levels of cortisol in shy children may induce changes in the amygdala, exacerbating their fearfulness.

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