Behavior Genetics

, Volume 49, Issue 4, pp 376–385 | Cite as

The Genetic and Environmental Etiology of Shyness Through Childhood

  • Geneviève Morneau-Vaillancourt
  • Ginette Dionne
  • Mara Brendgen
  • Frank Vitaro
  • Bei Feng
  • Jeffrey Henry
  • Nadine Forget-Dubois
  • Richard Tremblay
  • Michel BoivinEmail author
Original Research


The objective of this study was to examine the genetic and environmental contributions to shyness throughout the school-age period. Participants were 553 twin pairs from the ongoing prospective longitudinal Quebec Newborn Twin Study. Teacher-rated measures of shyness were collected at five time-points from age 6–12 years. On average, shyness was moderately stable over time (r = 0.23–0.33) and this stability was almost entirely accounted for by genetic factors. Genetic factors at age 6 accounted for 44% of individual differences and these early genetic factors also explained individual differences at all subsequent ages (6–22%). Non-shared environmental factors explained most of individual differences at single time-points (51–63%), and did not account for stability in shyness. Contributions of shared environment were not significant. Our results suggest that the stability in shyness is mostly accounted for by early and persistent genetic contributions.


Shyness Development Longitudinal study School-age Twins 



We gratefully acknowledge the on-going contribution of families, children and teachers in the Quebec Newborn Twin Study (QNTS). We also thank Hélène Paradis for data preparation and Marie-Élyse Bertrand for project coordination.


The present study was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Grant No. 309262) studentship to Geneviève Morneau-Vaillancourt. The Quebec Newborn Twin Study (QNTS) is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Fonds Québécois de la Recherche sur la Société et la Culture (multiple grants).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Geneviève Morneau-Vaillancourt, Ginette Dionne, Mara Brendgen, Frank Vitaro, Bei Feng, Jeffrey Henry, Nadine Forget-Dubois, Richard Tremblay, Michel Boivin have declared that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of Université Laval and Sainte-Justine Hospital and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants or their parents in the study.

Supplementary material

10519_2019_9955_MOESM1_ESM.docx (46 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 45 KB)


  1. Achenbach TM (1991) Manual for the child behavior checklist/4-18 and 1991 profile. University of Vermont, Department of Psychiatry, BurlingtonGoogle Scholar
  2. Achenbach TM (1992) Manual for the child behavior checklist/2-3 and 1992 profile. University of Vermont, Department of Psychiatry, BurlingtonGoogle Scholar
  3. Asendorpf JB (1987) Videotape reconstruction of emotions and cognitions related to shyness. J Pers Soc Psychol 53:542–549. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Asendorpf JB (1990) Beyond social withdrawal: shyness, unsociability, and peer avoidance. Hum Dev 33:250–259. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Boivin M, Brendgen M, Dionne G et al (2013a) The Quebec Newborn Twin Study into adolescence: 15 years later. Twin Res Hum Genet 16:64–69. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Boivin M, Brendgen M, Vitaro F et al (2013b) Evidence of gene-environment correlation for peer difficulties: disruptive behaviors predict early peer relation difficulties in school through genetic effects. Dev Psychopathol 25:79–92. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Cherny SS, Fulker DW, Corley RP et al (1994) Continuity and change in infant shyness from 14 to 20 months. Behav Genet 24:365–379. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Coplan RJ, Arbeau KA, Armer M (2008) Don’t fret, be supportive! Maternal characteristics linking child shyness to psychosocial and school adjustment in kindergarten. J Abnorm Child Psychol 36:359–371. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Degnan KA, Fox NA (2007) Behavioral inhibition and anxiety disorders: multiple levels of a resilience process. Dev Psychopathol 19:729–746. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Dennissen JJA, Asendorpf JB, Van Aken MAG (2008) Childhood personality predicts long-term trajectories of shyness and aggressiveness in the context of demographic transitions in emerging adulthood. J Pers 76:67–99. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Duncan TE, Duncan SC, Strycker LA (2006) Introduction to latent variable growth curve modeling: concepts, issues, and applications, 2nd edn. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, MahwahGoogle Scholar
  12. Eisenberg N, Shepard SA, Fabes RA et al (1998) Shyness and children’s emotionality, regulation, and coping: contemporaneous, longitudinal, and across-context relations. Child Dev 69:767–790CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Entwisle DR, Alexander KL (1998) Facilitating the transition to first grade: the nature of transition and research on factors affecting it. Elem Sch J 98:351–364CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fordham K, Stevenson-Hinde J (1999) Shyness, friendship quality, and adjustment during middle childhood. J Child Psychol Psychiatry Allied Discip 40:757–768CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gifford-Smith ME, Brownell CA (2003) Childhood peer relationships: social acceptance, friendships, and peer networks. J Sch Psychol 41:235–284. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hoekstra RV, Bartels M, Hudziak JJ et al (2008) Genetic and environmental influences on the stability of withdrawn behavior in children: a longitudinal, multi-informant twin study. Behav Genet 38:447–461. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Hooper D, Coughlan J, Mullen M (2008) Structural equation modelling: guidelines for determining model fit. Electron J Bus Res Methods 6:53–60. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. IBM Corporation (2013) IBM SPSS statistics, version 22.0. IBM Corporation, ArmonkGoogle Scholar
  19. Karevold E, Ystrom E, Coplan RJ et al (2012) A prospective longitudinal study of shyness from infancy to adolescence: stability, age-related changes, and prediction of socio-emotional functioning. J Abnorm Child Psychol 40:1167–1177. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Lacourse E, Boivin M, Brendgen M et al (2014) A longitudinal twin study of physical aggression during early childhood: evidence for a developmentally dynamic genome. Psychol Med 44:2617–2627. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Little TD (2013) Overview and foundations of structural equation modeling. In: Little TD (ed) Longitudinal structural equation modeling. The Guilford Press, New York, pp 8–9Google Scholar
  22. Loehlin JC (1996) The Cholesky approach: a cautionary note. Behav Genet 26:65–69. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. McArdle JJ, Hamagami F (2003) Structural equation models for evaluating dynamic concepts within longitudinal twin analyses. Behav Genet 33:137–159. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Muthen LK, Muthen BO (2017) MPlus user’s guide, 8th edn. Muthen & Muthen, Los AngelesGoogle Scholar
  25. Neale MC, Cardon LR (1992) Methodology for genetic studies of twins and families. Springer, DordrechtCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Parker JG, Asher SR (1993) Friendship and friendship quality in middle childhood: links with peer group acceptance and feelings of loneliness and social dissatisfaction. Dev Psychol 29:611–621. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Pérez-Edgar K, Bar-Haim Y, McDermott JM et al (2010) Attention biases to threat and behavioral inhibition in early childhood shape adolescent social withdrawal. Emotion 10:349–357. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  28. Rubin KH, Coplan RJ, Bowker JC (2009) Social withdrawal in childhood. Annu Rev Psychol 60:141–171. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  29. Schlomer GL, Bauman S, Card NA (2010) Best practices for missing data management in counseling psychology. J Couns Psychol 57:1–10. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Steiger JH (1980) Tests for comparing elements of a correlation matrix. Psychol Bull 87:245–251. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Turner SM, Beidel DC, Townsley RM (1990) Social phobia: relationship to shyness. Behav Res Ther 28:497–505. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Van der Valk JC, Van den Oord EJCG, Verhulst FC, Boomsma DI (2003) Genetic and environmental contributions to stability and change in children’s internalizing and externalizing problems. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 42:1212–1220. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Verhulst FC, Koot HM, Ende J (1994) Differential predictive value of parents’ and teachers’ reports of children’s problem behaviors: a longitudinal study. J Abnorm Child Psychol 22:531–546. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Verhulst FC, Ende D, Ferdinand RF, Kasius MC (1997) The prevalence of DSM-III-R diagnoses in a national sample of dutch adolescents. Arch Gen Psychiatry 54:329–336. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Volbrecht MM, Goldsmith HH (2010) Early temperamental and family predictors of shyness and anxiety. Dev Psychol 46:1192–1205. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  36. Zumbo BD, Gadermann AM, Zeisser C (2007) Ordinal versions of coefficients alpha and theta for likert rating scales. J Mod Appl Stat Methods 6:21–29. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Geneviève Morneau-Vaillancourt
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ginette Dionne
    • 1
    • 2
  • Mara Brendgen
    • 2
    • 3
  • Frank Vitaro
    • 2
    • 4
  • Bei Feng
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jeffrey Henry
    • 1
  • Nadine Forget-Dubois
    • 1
    • 2
  • Richard Tremblay
    • 2
    • 5
  • Michel Boivin
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversité LavalQuébec CityCanada
  2. 2.Research Unit on Children’s Psychosocial MaladjustmentMontréalCanada
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversité du Québec à MontréalMontréalCanada
  4. 4.Department of Psycho-EducationUniversité de MontréalMontréalCanada
  5. 5.Department of PsychologyUniversité de MontréalMontréalCanada

Personalised recommendations