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PLoS One. 2013 May 10;8(5):e63151. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0063151. Print 2013.

Structural and functional connectivity changes in the brain associated with shyness but not with social anxiety.

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  • 1Huaxi MR Research Center, Department of Radiology, West China Hospital of Sichuan University, Chengdu, PR China.


Shyness and social anxiety are correlated to some extent and both are associated with hyper-responsivity to social stimuli in the frontal cortex and limbic system. However to date no studies have investigated whether common structural and functional connectivity differences in the brain may contribute to these traits. We addressed this issue in a cohort of 61 healthy adult subjects. Subjects were first assessed for their levels of shyness (Cheek and Buss Shyness scale) and social anxiety (Liebowitz Social Anxiety scale) and trait anxiety. They were then given MRI scans and voxel-based morphometry and seed-based, resting-state functional connectivity analysis investigated correlations with shyness and anxiety scores. Shyness scores were positively correlated with gray matter density in the cerebellum, bilateral superior temporal gyri and parahippocampal gyri and right insula. Functional connectivity correlations with shyness were found between the superior temporal gyrus, parahippocampal gyrus and the frontal gyri, between the insula and precentral gyrus and inferior parietal lobule, and between the cerebellum and precuneus. Additional correlations were found for amygdala connectivity with the medial frontal gyrus, superior frontal gyrus and inferior parietal lobule, despite the absence of any structural correlation. By contrast no structural or functional connectivity measures correlated with social or trait anxiety. Our findings show that shyness is specifically associated with structural and functional connectivity changes in cortical and limbic regions involved with processing social stimuli. These associations are not found with social or trait anxiety in healthy subjects despite some behavioral correlations with shyness.

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