State Versus Trait Shyness
Typically, a distinction between two characterizations of shyness is drawn. The immediate emotional/cognitive experience of shyness—arousal and heightened self-consciousness in response to social threat—defines what is known as state or situational shyness. This type of shyness may be experienced by virtually anyone from time to time, especially in certain social situations. For example, people are generally more shy in situations involving strangers than when interacting with friends or family members. By contrast, trait shyness refers to the chronic tendency to experience state shyness more frequently or at lower levels of social threat (Buss 1980). For some people state shyness dissipates when the circumstances giving rise to it change, whereas trait shyness is a personality dimension leading to frequent and intense experiential shyness over time and across situations (Russell, Cutrona, and Jones 1986). The specific level of state shyness experienced by persons high in trait shyness also varies from one situation to the next, but remains higher for them than for persons low in trait shyness.