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When an infant or toddler is confronted with strangers, either adults or children, an initial reaction of reticence and withdrawal is generally accepted and understood. Being cautious with strangers, animal or human, served for millions of years as a built-in safety device and was advantageous for survival. But from age three or four onward, most parents in modern societies like to see their children overcome their natural inhibitory tendencies soon after being introduced to other people. Cultures differ in their acceptance of shyness. In the United States, having an outgoing personality is highly valued, and thus parents worry when their child is socially inhibited by temperament, fearful when confronted by strangers, says as little as possible when in the company of unfamiliar people, and prefers playing alone. In other cultures, such as in Sweden, shy, reserved behavior is preferred to bold, attention-getting behavior, and consequently shyness is seen as less of a problem. In both cultures however, when people who were shy as children become adults, they tend to marry a few years later than adults who were not shy in childhood.



Kerr, Margaret, William Lambert, and Daryl Bem. "Life Course Sequelae of Childhood Shyness in Sweden: Comparison with the United States." Developmental Psychology 32 (1995):1100-1105.

Rubin, K. H., and Jens B. Asendorpf, eds. Social Withdrawal, Inhibition and Shyness. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1992.

Dolph Kohnstamm

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Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 7