Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Shyness and Symptoms of Illness in Young Children

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Shyness and Symptoms of Illness in Young Children

Article excerpt


The study investigated the association between shyness and symptoms of illness in young children and the types of symptoms differentiating shy and nonshy children. Sixteen shy children and 16 nonshy children (mean age 7 years 3 months) were matched on sex, parental education, familial stress, and height-weight ratio. For four weeks, parents recorded their children's health complaints and their own observations and conclusions of their children's health. There were more days on which shy children complained of unwellness and parents observed symptoms of unwellness than for nonshy children. Shy children made more affective complaints and were observed to experience more gastrointestinal upset. Several interpretations of the results are presented including the possibilities that lower thresholds for arousal in the hypothalamicpituitary-adrenal axes of shy children affected their immunocompetence, that parents of shy children and the children themselves were more sensitive to symptoms of illness, and that feeling unwell may contribute to shy behaviour. Regardless of the interpretation, the results suggest that the health of shy children merits further study.


L'etude examine, d'une part, les liens entre la timidite et les symptomes de la maladie chez les jeunes enfants, d'autre part les types de symptomes qui distinguent les enfants timides de ceux qui ne le sont pas. Seize enfants timides et seize enfants qui ne le sont pas (age moyen de sept ans et trois mois) ont ete jumeles selon les criteres du sexe, de l'education parentale, du niveau de stress que vit la famille, et du rapport taille-poids. Pendant quatre semaines, les parents ont pris note des occasions ou leurs enfants se sont plaints d'etre malades et consigne leurs propres commentaires et conclusions sur la sante de leurs enfants. Il s'est avere au bout du compte que les enfants timides se sont plaints plus souvent de malaises que les enfants qui ne sont pas timides, et que les parents ont observe des symptomes de maladie plus frequemment chez le premier groupe d'enfants que le second. Les enfants timides ont formule davantage de plaintes affectives et les parents ont observe chez eux davantage de troubles gastro-intestinaux. L'etude suggere plusieurs interpretations des resultats, notamment la possibilite que le seuil d'eveil moins eleve de l'axe hypothalamo-hypophyso-surrenalien des enfants timides a des repercussions sur leur competence immunitaire, que les parents des enfants timides et les enfants eux-memes sont plus sensibles aux symptomes de la maladie, et que le fait de ne pas se sentir bien renforce le comportement timide. Peu importe l'interpretation qu'on en fait, les resultats suggerent que la sante des enfants timides merite un examen plus approfondi.

Shyness and/or social withdrawal are terms used to describe individuals who experience a state of uncertainty when confronted with a novel situation, and who tend to exhibit a set of withdrawal behaviours even upon subsequent encounters with the situation. The withdrawal behaviours include restrained behaviour, reticence, and lack of spontaneity in action and talk (e.g., Evans, 1993; Kagan, 1989; Rubin & Mills, 1988). Emotional and cognitive distress, feelings such as anxiety, and a set of physiological processes are also associated with this state of uncertainty. Longitudinal studies have shown that extreme social withdrawal and extreme behavioural inhibition are reasonably stable phenomena (e.g. Kagan, 1989; Rubin & Mills, 1988). Only a small amount of research has been conducted on the health of shy individuals. The purpose of the present study was to examine the association between shyness and illness in young children.

Research Suggesting Why Shy Children May Experience More Illness

Psychoneuroimmunology. In the area of psychoneuroimmunology, researchers probe the effects of psychological variables on the immune system and how they are mediated by the body (e. …

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