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Behav Res Ther. 2005 Aug;43(8):1019-27. Epub 2004 Oct 19.

Psychiatric correlates of childhood shyness in a nationally representative sample.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg MB, Canada R3E 3N4.


Relations between adult anxiety and mood disorders and retrospective reports of excessive childhood shyness were investigated in the US National Comorbidity, Survey (n=5877). Results indicated that 26% of women and 19% of men described themselves as 'very shy' when they were growing up. Of these shy individuals, 53% of women and 40% of men met criteria for a lifetime diagnosis of one or more anxiety or mood disorders. Relations between excessive shyness and each of the anxiety and mood disorders were examined after adjusting for elevated neuroticism, self-criticism, and low maternal care. The largest odds ratios were found for social phobia in both men and women, particularly for the complex subtype of this disorder. Significant associations also emerged for posttraumatic stress disorder in women and for major depressive disorder in men. Childhood shyness remained significantly associated with a lifetime history of social phobia when individuals with current (past year) social phobia were excluded from the analysis. The results of this study suggest that childhood shyness is strongly related to the complex subtype of social phobia in the general population. Excessive shyness does not appear to be strongly associated with other anxiety and mood disorders when related psychosocial and developmental dimensions are statistically controlled. Finally, many individuals who report excessive childhood shyness do not meet criteria for any anxiety or mood disorder. In a similar fashion, approximately 50% of individuals with a lifetime history of complex social phobia did not view themselves as very shy when growing up.

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