Commentary: Bashful Boys and Coy Girls: A Review of Gender Differences in Childhood Shyness

Abstract

In this commentary we argue that subjective reviews of gender differences, as opposed to empirical meta-analyses, can be more affected by influences which may not yield an objective evaluation of the available evidence, including the potential overrepresentation of articles that do versus do not find gender differences and lack of a systematic evaluation of factors that influence findings. We consider theoretical bases for considering shyness to be detrimental to the development and wellbeing of girls. These include perspectives that characterize girls as being particularly affected by their personal relationships and children of both genders as influenced by patterns of same-gender interaction. Some perspectives are helpful in conceptualizing why gender difference patterns can be nuanced over the course of development, across different outcomes, contexts, and historical periods. We also briefly consider the utility of diathesis × stress and differential susceptibility models in understanding gendered patterns of adjustment. We argue that reviews of gender differences in childhood shyness should address the gender difference paradox in childhood shyness and anxiety. That is, why are gender differences in the prevalence of shyness typically absent in early to middle childhood (as concluded in the review article), but girls and women consistently demonstrate higher rates of anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder, than their male counterparts in adolescence and adulthood? Finally, we conclude with comments encouraging researchers to consider the potential consequences of how they convey messages about gender differences in childhood shyness. We suggest how such information can be communicated in a responsible manner.

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Gazelle, H., Peter, D. & Karkavandi, M.A. Commentary: Bashful Boys and Coy Girls: A Review of Gender Differences in Childhood Shyness. Sex Roles 70, 285–308 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-014-0361-0

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Keywords

  • Shyness
  • Childhood
  • Gender differences
  • Anxiety
  • Social withdrawal