Jerome Kagan on shyness

topic posted Sat, March 12, 2005 - 6:09 PM by  Unsubscribed
Shyness Shows Up in Brain Scans, Study Finds -
Kids May Inherit Shyness, Study Suggests
Reuters & AP stories -- Jun 19, 2003

The brains of shy people overreact when they see strange new faces, which may explain personality differences and also offer ways to treat anxiety disorders, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.

Even people who have seemingly overcome their innate shyness have an extra-strong reaction in the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, when shown a new face, the researchers found.

People who had been judged as toddlers to be inhibited showed in the scans that the amygdala structure in their brains responded much more actively to unexpected sights than did those subjects who had been judged as children to be more outgoing, said Jerome Kagan, a researcher in the department of psychology at Harvard University.

"That is support for the notion that the reason they were shy, timid and reserved when they were 2 years old is because they had an excitable amygdala," said Kagan.

This suggests that shyness is a temperament that can be inherited, but the researcher said this temperament does not necessarily determine one's eventual personality.

"They are now 22 years old," Kagan said of the test subjects. "A lot of the ones who were fearful aren't fearful anymore. They have overcome it. But the question is, did they still have a very active amygdala."

Based on the brain scans, Kagan said, the answer is clearly yes.

Tests were conducted on 13 people who had been evaluated as shy as 2-year-olds. The results were compared tests on nine people who had been evaluated as children to be outgoing and bold.

"We had assumed, but never measured, that ... the shy, inhibited group had inherited a certain chemistry" in the amygdala, Kagan said. ....

Although some children are shy and others are outgoing, he said, these traits can change with time and life experiences. "People overcome their shyness," Kagan said. "You can also acquire shyness."

...Psychology: An Introduction -- by Jerome Kagan
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