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The Shyness of Brain

Vicky Tu's picture

 In the current society, personality plays a large role in the society. People are often judged by their characters as much as their appearances. The ones with an outgoing and assertive personality are usually the favored ones who are more loved and respected by others. The shy ones are often ignored and misunderstood and become more self-abased.  Yet shy people should not be blamed for their particular personality. According to recent studies, shyness is naturally built into our brain. It is a mechanism for dealing with stresses. There are also researches, which show that too much shyness is caused by genes.

We have learned about inputs and outputs in class. A stimulation of something strange and risky could be an input that triggers several physiological outputs related to anxiety such as increased muscle tension, heat rates and blood pressure. Studies show that amygdala, which is on top of brain stem, mainly regulates the emotions of fear and anxiety. Most common people will be triggered some response of fear and anxiety when in a situation that gives them stress. This is what amygdala exists for. Though shy people are more sensitive to stress. In a process called “contextual conditioning” (2), people associate uncomfortable feelings of anxiety with certain occasions that give them stress. This process combines both amygdala and hippocampus. When a stimulus is triggered, nucleus from stria terminalis will reach to other parts of the brain, spreading the feelings of fear and anxiety to other parts of the brain including hippocampus, which causes “symptoms” related to anxiety by triggering the sympathetic nervous system. In the case of shy people, they tend to quickly associate feelings of anxiety and fear with situations that present no danger nor risk like class discussions or parties, sometimes even before these events actually take place.

One study shows that shyness in children could be caused by the differences of brains. When some people, who are shy during childhood, are shown new people or things, they “displayed significantly higher activity in the amygdala than people who had been unusually outgoing as children” (3). Infants who are adventurous toward new things are considered to have an “uninhibited” temperament. Infants who are scared of new people or things are considered to have the “inhibited” temperament. Both these temperaments are considered to be inherent. Though not all adults, who were inhibited during childhood, turn out to be shy.

Some researches showed that shyness might be linked with the length of a gene called serotonin transporter promoter, which controls the amount of serotonin transporters. People with shorter serotonin transporter promoter are more prone to fear and anxiety. Serotonergic neurons in central nervous system mostly regulate mood, muscle contraction, memory, and etc. Shorter serotonin transporter promoters, which decrease serotonin production, can cause less serotonin activity, and therefore increase the level of anxiety.

Studies also show that another gene, DRD4, may account for anxiety and shyness. “The DRD4 gene codes for a protein that binds dopamine, another chemical messenger that has powerful effects in the brain”(1). It also has a longer and a shorter form. While longer DRD4 gene can be linked with high risk taking behaviors, shorter DRD4 may cause a higher level of anxiety and shyness in contrast.

What remained undiscovered is how these genes actually cause the feeling of shyness. Also people processes these genes do not always turn out to be shy. Like we learned in class, there is no absolute truth to anything. With each discovery we find, we are simply more right or more wrong. In the case of shyness, the short serotonin transporter promoter and DRD4 may only account for very small percent of shyness. There could be many other reasons combined with these genes that cause shyness. Even so, we are probably one step closer to discover the secret behind shyness.

Shy people should be treated with respect and understanding. “Shyness” should not be considered a negative word. It is the way a person’s built naturally. It is all because of the differences of the brain. There is an old saying “we should love the way God made us”. Whether there is a God or not, shy people should accept shyness as a part of their identity and love the way they are.



(1) Genome News Network

(2) Psychology Today

(3) New Scientist


Overcome Shyness's picture

Overcome Shyness

Interesting discussion around the nature of shyness...
Based on my research, I tend to think shyness is more of a learned behavior. It seems to be anxiety responses that have been acquired and reinforced over time, rather than inherited traits that cannot be changed. Let's also keep in mind there are differences between shyness and introversion. Introversion is really just a social preference, and introverted people don't experience the same challenges that people with shyness experience.

Framing the discussion around the nature of social anxiety and lack of self esteem seems like a more appropriate starting point, and it can be more supportive to those struggling with shyness. An individual is more likely to overcome shyness when they can see it as a learned behavior rather than genetic predisposition or condition. Just my two cents!

Serendip Visitor's picture


I have been battling social anxiety ever since my first day in high school.I'm in the tenth grade now.I also suffer from low self esteem issues due to my BO problem.Do you have any suggestions for me?Anything would be helpful.Thank you and God bless!

Jeanette Bates's picture

"Growing out of shyness?"

I found this pretty interesting, it certainly helps me come to terms with I own shyness. I have to wonder though, how is it that people "grow out" of shyness? I know that there are a few people who are very shy as children yet become boisterous adults. Would this mean that there is a change in gene expression later on in life?

Paul Grobstein's picture

shyness and the brain

"shy people should accept shyness as a part of their identity and love the way they are"

That might be a good message for ____ people of all kinds?  See Cultures of Ability.  But  ... shouldn't people also try to get it "less wrong"?  How do the two messages relate?  What are the limits of what the brain can do and how does that intersect with its potentials?