The brains of very shy children may process facial expressions — especially hostile ones — differently than children who aren’t shy.

Researchers say those differences may help explain why shy children feel uncomfortable in certain social situations.

The study showed that the brains of very shy children or those with a particular gene associated with shyness appeared to have a different pattern of processing hostile or neutral facial expressions. Researchers say the findings show that these differences in brain processing may make it harder for shy children to read others’ emotions and respond appropriately.

Shy Kids May Be Different

The study, which appears in the January edition of the Archives of General Psychiatry, involved 49 third- and fourth-grade schoolchildren who had been characterized as shy.

The children were shown pictures of boys and girls with facial expressions that depicted joy, anger, or neutral emotions. As the children viewed the pictures, researchers monitored electrical activity in their brains as well as assessed their responses with questionnaires.

The study showed that children with the highest levels of shyness or a gene associated with shyness had diminished brain involvement that appeared to hamper their ability to read certain facial expressions, especially hostile ones.

Researchers say previous studies have also shown that shy children respond differently in a variety of situations. They say these findings indicate that a different pattern of processing emotional information and facial expressions can be recognized early in life.

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCE: Battaglia, M. Archives of General Psychiatry, January 2005; vol 62: pp 85-94.