Shyness Is Related to Thinking About Thinking

Feelings of shyness can come with all kinds of thoughts. Worries, doubts, rumination. But a new study by researchers in Italy suggests it goes deeper than that: shyness might also have to do with how we think about thinking.

Psychologists refer to the we make sense of our own thoughts as metacognition. In the study on shyness, the researchers measured people’s metacognitive beliefs using a questionnaire called the Metacognitions Questionnaire 30, or MCQ-30 or short.

Questionnaires like the MCQ-30 ask about several different aspects of how people relate to their own thoughts. They ask about things like whether people are self-conscious of their thoughts, whether they believe their thoughts can be dangerous, and whether they feel a need to control their own thoughts.

Administering the MCQ-30, the researchers found that people’s levels of shyness correlated with their scores on the metacognition questionnaire. Part of the relationship between shyness and metacognition could be explained by rumination, the tendency to repetitively engage with negative thoughts.

Previous research has found that metacognition is related to social anxiety. It’s still an open question how much social anxiety has in common with everyday shyness. As the authors point out, some research have suggested that social anxiety is an “extreme” form of shyness, while others have hypothesized that there’s a more qualitative difference.

By investigating metacognition in shyness rather than social anxiety, the recent study uncovers a new similarity between shyness and social anxiety. People with higher than average levels of shyness, like people with social anxiety, seem to relate to their thoughts in a different way.

The authors of the paper emphasize the shyness is not a disorder, but that understanding the role of metacognition in shyness could nonetheless help people with high levels of shyness develop more effective social skills. Ultimately, reflecting on the way they deal with their own thoughts could put shy people in a position to “more effectively understand and respond to their shyness.”

Image: Flickr/Rachel Latanzi