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17. Trajectories of observed shyness and internalizing problems in children
Shyness can manifest as inhibition, fear, and avoidance in the context of social novelty and situations of perceived social evaluation. Previous work has revealed that childhood shyness is a risk factor for psychopathology, particularly internalizing problems. However, relatively little work has examined how longitudinal patterns of observed shy behaviors in children are related to symptoms of internalizing problems. In the present study, 130 children (Mage = 7.6 years, SD = 1.8) participated in a videotaped self-presentation task across three separate visits spanning approximately three years in early and middle childhood. At each visit, behavioral coding of shyness was completed. Using latent growth curve analysis, we found that children’s observed shyness across visits was best characterized by two trajectories, including a high-stable class (19%) and a low-stable class (81%). Girls were more likely than boys to follow a pattern of high-stable observed shyness. Further, children in the high-stable observed shyness class were rated by their parents and teachers as more socially anxious relative to children in the low-stable class, but did not differ in symptoms of generalized anxiety. Boys in the high-stable class were rated by their teachers as displaying more depressive symptoms relative to girls. Our findings suggest that there is a subset of children who display stable, relatively high levels of behavioral shyness across early and middle childhood, and this subset of children may be at particularly high risk for manifesting internalizing problems.