The Experience Of State Shyness
State shyness consists of converging processes in the cognitive (e.g., self-focus, thoughts of escape, dread, preoccupation with the self, concern with one's performance), affective (e.g., anxiety, shame, embarrassment), behavioral (e.g., nervous gestures, inhibited speech, dysfluency, nervous and excessive verbalization), and physiological (e.g., sweating, heart palpitations, elevated blood pressure, dry mouth) domains of experience. These experiences are often sufficiently unpleasant to lead to withdrawal from or avoidance of many social situations, but they also compound the distress of shyness by distracting from skilled and self-confident social interactions.
The origins of state shyness are twofold. First, certain situations in which one's identity is at issue under conditions of uncertainty, and situations that elicit awareness of the self as the object of others' attention, give rise to the experience of shyness (Buss 1980). Relevant situations include those involving evaluations, public performances, novelty, high status/attractive people, formality (e.g., weddings, funerals), self-presentations, and being the center of attention. The necessity of meeting and interacting with strangers at social gatherings is a prototypical example of an experience involving several of these factors. The second contributing factor is trait shyness. Specifically, some people are predisposed to experience state shyness by virtue of their personality and characteristic ways of coping with social demands. Thus, state shyness is a joint function of the level of trait shyness and situational characteristics.
State shyness is related to other social emotions such as shame, audience anxiety, and embarrassment. All involve some degree of social withdrawal, but shyness also differs from these other emotions by virtue of its situational elicitors and the specific components of the experience. For example, shame arises from the public detection of an immoral or undesirable behavior whereas shyness involves vacillation between interest and fear in social situations (Izard 1972). One unpleasant consequence of shyness is that it often results in negative interpersonal and emotional judgments in which the shy person is perceived not only as reticent, but also as unfriendly, arrogant, or even hostile.