Shyness in College Students: Changes Over Time and Other Correlates

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Susan Sprecher

Mentor Department



Shyness, defined as feeling uncomfortable or awkward interacting with others, is a common experience. Shyness can have negative consequences for people, including contributing to loneliness, depression, and negative self-image (Henderson et al., 2014). Some research suggests that shyness has increased among college students and possibly in the general population (Henderson et al., 2014). Most of the research on changes in shyness, however, was conducted comparing students from earlier decades. Research has not compared shyness levels of students from the 2000s and 2010s, during which the smartphone became widespread in use. The recent generation has been described as the connected generation (Pew Research Center, 2010), but whether this increase in electronic communication has contributed to an increase in shyness, social anxiety, and other social phobias is not known. However, there have been many studies that compare different cohorts of young adults on other psychological phenomena over the decades of the 1990s, 2000s, and sometimes the start of the 2010s. These studies generally used meta-analysis to compare different samples, collected at different times (and most often in different settings). For example, this research found that depressive symptoms and insecure attachment styles have increased in recent decades among young adults (Konrath et al., 2014). Our study will be able to fill a gap in the shyness literature by looking at how college students' responses to a self-report measure of shyness have changed over almost three decades, with the data collection setting remaining constant. Dr. Sprecher has survey data she has collected over many years at ISU, and included in the instrument is a self-description item of shyness. As a team, we will analyze the data from over 8,000 college students (1990-2018) to see whether there have been changes in self-reported shyness over this period. We will also look at how shyness varies with other background characteristics, including gender, age, year in school, race, social class, and rural vs urban background. Very little past research has considered demographic correlates of shyness. In a preliminary analysis, we found that 75% of our college participants reported at least some shyness. Many other analyses will be conducted, and will be presented in our poster. We will also discuss the limitations of our study, including that it was only a one-item measure of shyness and the wording of the item changed slightly in a recent version of the survey.


Ricker-undergraduate, Ridgeway-undergraduate, Eichele-undergraduate, Perry-undergraduate, Zimansky-undergraduate

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