The Science of Shyness: Is Shyness Genetic or Learned?
Health / Mental Health / Self-Confidence / Shyness
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It is only in recent years that scientific researchers have turned their attention to one of the most common conditions known to man – shyness. Shyness per se is not really associated with any negative statistics before, so it is understandable that researchers for the past few decades have been completely focused on conditions such as depression, Alzheimer’s disease, etc. Image Credit: DNA Double Helix, NHGRI – National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institute of Health, 300×225. Wikimedia Commons.
However, more recent studies show that chronic shyness may be more than just a natural temperament or trait. There is now evidence that links chronic shyness to specific groups of genes, especially genes that are linked with anxiety. Here is what we know so far of shyness and its genetic linkages:
Image Credit: DNA Double Helix, NHGRI – National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institute of Health, 640×484. Wikimedia Commons.
Shyness and Social Anxiety Disorder Genetics
1. Shyness has genetic roots but is also determined by what happens after we are born. The nurture component has the same weight as the genetic component. Therefore, it is possible for a person to have all the genes for chronic shyness but he/she may not have problems relating to other people.
2. Researchers are currently utilizing techniques outside the more conventional quantitative genetics to find specific genes that cause shyness. The trend before this shift was to infer from existing data the tendencies of individuals based on pre-existing behavioral patterns from close family members.
This shift in the way researchers examine the genetic linkages of shyness does not in any way discredit previous research. However, researchers are now more interested in discovering the actual genes that may contribute to the behavior itself.
3. A major player in the quest for the “Shyness Gene” is the STG or the serotonin transporter gene. It appears that individuals who possess a truncated version of the STG tend to suffer from conditions such as chronic shyness.
What is the implication of having a truncated version of the STG? Well, according to current studies, people who have a shorter version tend to produce less serotonin in their bodies. Serotonin is a type of neurotransmitter that is believed to be essential in positive feelings such as being happy or being content.
Having lower serotonin levels in the body tends to have an effect on a person’s general predisposition and behavior. People who suffer from conditions such as clinical depression may have abnormal levels of serotonin.
4. Another gene called the DRD4 has recently been observed and associated with adventurous behavior. Individuals who also have a truncated version of the DRD4 gene may exhibit a lower inclination to try new things or expose themselves to unfamiliar situations or people. What happens when a person who has a truncated DRD4 gene is exposed to the latter?
Well, the initial (and most observable) response is stress, which is a physiological response to something that is perceived as a threat or danger.
Researchers who have discovered this link caution people not to box themselves in with this information because as we have discussed earlier, chronic shyness is not determine wholly by genetics.
Half of the outcome is due to a person’s life experiences and how he interacts with others. In short, there is still agency or hope for change even if a person is genetically predisposed to shyness.
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