Shy Teens and Their Peers: Shyness in Respect to Basic Personality Traits and Social Relations


Maria Magdalena Kwiatkowska, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland
Radosław Rogoza, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland


Adolescence is a transitional stage of development that bridges childhood and adulthood. A very important aspect of this period is social development, which depends to a large extent on the developing personality traits of the individual. Shyness is one such characteristic which is crucial in terms of establishing social relations. For instance, shyness can make it difficult to meet new people, to make friends or to experience joy from potentially positive social experiences, and others may underestimate the strengths of shy individuals. Researchers agree that shyness is a complex phenomenon resulting from two conflicting motivations: approach and avoidance. This discrepancy is also present when examining shyness in relation to basic personality traits or broad global factors of personality. The main interest of our study was to investigate how shyness is related to basic personality traits and whether these relations are reflected in the social networks of high school students.


Due to the planned social network analysis we enrolled a total of 10 entire school classes (253 secondary school students, all 16 years of age). Pupils were administered two short self-report measures: the Revised Cheek and Buss Shyness Scale and the Big Five Inventory-15. In addition we obtained a likeability assessment derived using a sociometric approach. Each pupil was given a roster (i.e., a full list of a class members), and could indicate an unlimited number of classmates he or she liked, which also referred to the extent of liking and social acceptance towards others.


A multiple linear regression model, supported by the adaptive LASSO network, showed that shyness is significantly predicted by two traits – extraversion and neuroticism, with extraversion having the strongest effect. Furthermore, as a result of estimating exponential random graph models, we found that shyness negatively predicted the number of outgoing relations, but did not affect the number of incoming relations. We also found that our results for shyness are quite similar to the network characteristics for the introversion, which indeed is marked by significant lack of gregariousness as measured by outgoing ties and no particular relation with popularity as measured by incoming ties.


What does it mean to be a shy during adolescence and how does shyness impact social relations within a school class? By integrating these results, we found that shyness in adolescence is closer to low extraversion—both through the lens of self-report personality traits and by examining the actual status of the individual within their social network (i.e., their school class). Is this relevant for understanding the life of shy teenagers? Our research modestly suggests that such individuals are less sociable, driven by a lower need for social relations rather than by negative emotionality and a sense of inferiority. Shy teens are not particularly popular within their peers, but they also do not strive for this popularity. Therefore, future research on the social functioning of shy adolescents should focus on their close intimate relationships, which may be more important for their well-being.

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