The Issue Of Shyness At University

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Commonly, shy people have been described to be anti-social, introverted and sometimes even weird. However, in 2007, Coplan and Armer used shyness as a term to describe someone who gets anxious in social situations and therefore behave in the ways mentioned above as well as showing some other characteristics. Singh and Kazmi (2013) wrote about the idea that shyness is an emotional state in which experiences can occur at four levels: cognitive, affective, physiological and behavioural. A cognitive experience refers to the negative and usually irrational thoughts that shy people have about themselves. When a person who identifies as being shy shows symptoms of heightened negative emotion or sweating palms, they are experiencing affective or physiological symptoms respectively. An example of a behavioural experience would be avoiding interactions where possible (Singh & Kazmi, 2013). This essay will be focusing on the effects of being shy at university. It is well known that University life is not only a step up in academic difficulty but, for most students, it is also the beginning of independence. When taking big steps like this it can be expected that some students are going to be shy and that this will affect their education.

There are a lot of ways in which shyness can be shown within University students however, it is difficult to notice because most characteristics of the students may just look like the characteristics of any other student. One way of distinguishing between a shy and non-shy student would be the fact that a shy student would not initiate socialisation on their own. In the earlier stages of life, a shy student is much easier to pick out of the crowd because they will tend to be alone around school, struggle to interact in group activities within class and have a tendency to face peer rejection (Coplan, Findlay,& Nelson, 2004). However, at University it is less likely that there will be group activities and it will be more difficult to identify peer rejection or being alone. Because of this, students will have to do refer themselves for help if they are feeling shy or socially anxious to an extent that it is affecting how well they are coping in such a new environment.

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One of the biggest misconceptions of being shy is that it is linked to introversion and that they are more intelligent than extroverts. Although 75% of people with an IQ above 160 are introverts it is not evidence to support the idea that shy students are also smarter purely because there is an overlap in characteristics. Both introverts and the shy tend to keep themselves be quieter and think more than talk but the biggest difference between the two is that introverts prefer to be alone whereas shy people tend to stay alone to avoid the feeling of anxiety (Sword, 2002). There is no correlation between shyness and intelligence (Coplan et al., 2011). As well as this, Spere et al. (2004) found that language development is also, on average, within developmental norms even though, the shy talk less and hesitate more. This is important to consider in university students because it could be used to suggest that although students may be shy in interviews etc. there are plenty of courses in which their academic success will not be compromised although inclusion plans could be considered for those who are extremely shy.

Although education is traditionally focused upon academic development, Piaget and Vygotsky did research to suggest that teaching should include social aspects as well (Blake & Pope, 2008). Creating rounded students includes focusing on emotional intelligence or interpersonal intelligence when teaching (Multiple Intelligences Theory (Gardner)- Learning Theories, n.d.). In the current era, a lot of people (especially teenagers) spend a lot of time on mobile devices or computers and therefore, it is less common for people to improve their interpersonal intelligence. At university, having a good understanding and awareness of personal feelings, strengths and weaknesses becomes very useful (Vandervoort, 2006). In lower school, group tasks tended to be very common however, once at University, independent study is greatly encouraged. This allows the students to interact with others in their own time and when comfortable. However, this does not encourage the development of emotional intelligence which may be a crucial skill in the future.

Emotional intelligence is something that is being taught by the environment throughout life because, everyone is constantly going through new situations which will each require them to give a different response (Snelling, 2016). Because of this, even at University, there are strategies for improving this skill and therefore, helping them manage their shyness and sometimes even social anxiety. Even in the years beyond university, there are a lot of simple but effective interventions which can be made by the shy individual. For example, Izgiç, Akyüz, Doğan and Kuğu (2004) suggest that it is important to focus primarily on positive thoughts rather than negative ones and to complement one’s self without comparing it to others because it helps build self-esteem and will therefore improve the confidence when around others. Alternatively, in 2014, Cuncic suggested that it is important to look for on-campus help or to use the course you’re in as a reason to socialise if things are still difficult.

Beyond the general definitions of shyness, there are different factors and subgroups that are also linked to the effect’s shyness has on education. One of these factors is the effect that gender has on a student that is shy. It is more likely for adolescent females to identify as being shy in a social environment than males of the same age (Doey, Coplan,& Kingsbury, 2014). An observation made by Baker in 1986, found that boys were questioned 80% more than girls in maths and science lessons. The results from this study could be inferred as supporting evidence that boys are more encouraged to get involved during lessons by speaking up more and therefore, having less chance to be shy. Although there is a difference in the quantitative aspect of shyness in education when comparing males to females, there does not seem to be any differences in characteristics shown by shy students specifically in younger children (Doey, Coplan,& Kingsbury, 2014). Both genders would be prone to difficulties making new relationships and engaging socially when shy.

Being shy can sometimes lead to more extreme symptoms which may lead to a diagnosis of social anxiety. In America, there has been approximately a 10% increase in the number of citizens who consider themselves as being shy and social anxiety disorder has been thought to affect nearly one in five of us (Cain, 2012). Because of its negative effect on a person’s everyday life, social anxiety disorder is no longer seen as just being disadvantageous but also, a real mental illness. There is also evidence that suggests that there is a link between negative thoughts and a biological change in the brain linked to depression. A prospective study done by Hankin, Ambrason and Siler (2001) used young adolescents without depression and found that students who had more negative thinking patterns were more likely to become depressed. As discussed earlier in the essay, shy students tend to have negative and irrational thoughts during a cognitive experience of being shy and therefore, it could be suggested that during the time at University (which also happens to be the beginning of adolescence) it is possible that they will be more prone to becoming depressed. On the other hand, critics may argue that although a link has been found between depression and negative thoughts, it cannot be determined whether depression is the effect or the cause. It could be possible that the students who do get depressed and have negative thoughts are predisposed through genetics or some other reason to have that psychopathology and therefore, shyness may have no link to it whatsoever.

As well as questioning whether the factors of the cause or the effect of each other it is also important to consider the fact that social anxiety disorder can have interventions to prevent the illness having too much of an impact on the patient’s education. It is believed that shyness is heterogenetic and therefore some students could be more likely to be shy than others however, like with most of biology, having the genes for a certain disorder does not fully determine whether or not that person is going to show symptoms. Most mental illnesses can only be fully understood when considering the interaction between genetic and nongenetic factors. For example, genes may create a diathesis to shyness that is only expressed when triggered by other non-biological risk factors such as threat-related life events (Davey, 2011). Because of the complexity of internalising disorders (such as social anxiety disorder), it is difficult to create an intervention method that works for every student. The most used treatment is therefore cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) (Umeh, 2013). The main benefit of this approach is that sessions can be done in groups which will encourage socialisation.

In the study done by Coplan, Findlay and Nelson in 2004, parenting styles were also measured alongside the other variables. They use the parenting styles and dimensions questionnaire on Mother’s to assess the styles of the parenting techniques in terms of being authoritarian or permissive within parenting as well as their non-reasoning and physical coercion. The results of this study found that the less optimal parents raised students who were shyer. This suggests that parenting may have a major effect on how shy a student may be. On the other hand, like most areas of psychology, there is the nature-nurture debate that must also be considered. Carducci (2008) argues that shyness is not a trait that people are born with. To back up these ideas, the researcher mentioned that the features linked to shyness require a sense of self. This is a skill that does not seem to develop until sometime after 18 months of age therefore, it could be suggested that being shy is a behaviour that is developed through nurture; there is very little evidence that says otherwise.

From the information above, it could be concluded that shyness does not have an effect on academic achievement but, it is clear that it does impact their emotional intelligence which in turn can have negative effects on a student. Modern education involves more than just passing exams; it is important to remember that a student’s general wellbeing when in an educational setting is equally as important. The main goal of schooling is to prepare people for their future in as many aspects as possible so that they can effectively sustain themselves to help drive forward the development of our planet. This leads us to the discussion of the benefits to being shy. In terms of careers, there will always be a job that will benefit from the characteristics of shy person however, it is important to make sure that shy people have the support needed to make the most of University and, in turn, get the places they deserve to be. It can also be concluded from this essay that it is important to encourage help in social environments from an early age. Overall, being shy is a mental illness that cannot be cured but this does not stop them from having the opportunity to live a fulfilling life as long as they receive the help and support they need to achieve their potential.


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