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Science. 1988 Apr 8;240(4849):167-71.

Biological bases of childhood shyness.

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Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138.


The initial behavioral reaction to unfamiliar events is a distinctive source of intraspecific variation in humans and other animals. Two longitudinal studies of 2-year-old children who were extreme in the display of either behavioral restraint or spontaneity in unfamiliar contexts revealed that by 7 years of age a majority of the restrained group were quiet and socially avoidant with unfamiliar children and adults whereas a majority of the more spontaneous children were talkative and interactive. The group differences in peripheral physiological reactions suggest that inherited variation in the threshold of arousal in selected limbic sites may contribute to shyness in childhood and even extreme degrees of social avoidance in adults.

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