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Associate Professor at Leiden University
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VENI for Milica Nicolic

Please, excuse my behaviour! The origins and social functions of shyness across typical and atypical development

Sorry voor mijn gedrag: De oorsprong en sociale functies van verlegenheid in normatieve en problematische ontwikkeling (scroll down for English)

De zelfbewuste emotie verlegenheid is een non-verbale reactie die sociale verbinding stimuleert, die essentieel is voor overleving. Wanneer verlegenheid niet goed gereguleerd is, relateert dit aan psychopathologie. Omdat verlegenheid in kinderen veel voorkomt, onderzoekt dit project hoe ouders verlegenheid socialiseren en de sociale voor- en nadelen van verlegenheid in kinderen.

Please, excuse my behaviour! The origins and social functions of shyness across typical and atypical development

The self-conscious emotion of shyness serves as a nonverbal apology that promotes social bonding, which is essential for survival. When dysregulated or absent, however, shyness relates to psychopathology. Because shyness is common in children, this project investigates how parents socialize shyness and the social benefits and costs of childhood shyness.

Scientific summary

The self-conscious emotion of shyness serves as a nonverbal apology for possible misbehaviours that promotes adults’ social bonding, which is essential for survival. It reflects the ambivalence between social interest and social wariness typically displayed through coy-smiles and quick blushes. Considering that it is especially common in children, discovering the developmental origins and social functions of childhood shyness is central for clarifying the basis of human social affiliation. Here, I propose to investigate, for the first time, the origins and social functions of shyness across typical and atypical child development. I showed that typical shyness is important for healthy social functioning, but when it becomes impaired, it contributes to psychopathology. Building on these findings, a new theory is tested about the development of shyness and its social benefits and costs. I propose that (1) parents socialize shyness in infancy; (2) typical shyness enables children’s social affiliation; and (3) atypical (dysregulated or absent) shyness contributes to psychopathology by hindering children’s social affiliation. Harnessing state-of-the-art behavioural and physiological measures to capture the full complexity of the self-conscious emotion of shyness and using innovative longitudinal and experimental designs, Project 1 examines whether shyness originates in parent’s (de)synchronous responding to the child’s internal states from infancy to toddlerhood. Project 2 examines the interpersonal functions of shyness—whether typical shyness increases interpersonal trust and closeness by peer-observers. Project 3 investigates (a) the circumstances under which atypical shyness is associated with psychopathology and (b) intrapersonal functions of shyness—whether atypical shyness of children at risk for developing psychopathology decreases their social engagement. The knowledge from the three projects will shed new light on the mechanisms of human social affiliation and lead to the development of novel practices to promote healthy social functioning by targeting atypical shyness in children at risk for psychopathology. 

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