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Developmental programming of shyness: A longitudinal, prospective study across four decades

  • Kristie L. Poole (a1), Saroj Saigal (a2), Ryan J. Van Lieshout (a3) and Louis A. Schmidt (a1)


Although shyness is a ubiquitous phenomenon with early developmental origins, little research has examined the influence of prenatal exposures on the developmental trajectory of shyness. Here, we examined trajectories of shyness from childhood to adulthood in three groups (N = 254), with varying degrees of prenatal adversity as indicated by the number of stressful exposures: extremely low birth weight (ELBW; <1000 g) survivors prenatally exposed to exogenous corticosteroids (ELBW+S, n = 56); ELBW survivors not prenatally exposed to exogenous corticosteroids (ELBW+NS, n = 56); and normal birth weight (NBW, n = 142) controls. Multilevel modeling revealed that the ELBW+S individuals exhibited the highest levels of childhood shyness, which remained stable into adulthood. The ELBW+NS and NBW controls had comparably low levels of childhood shyness; however, the ELBW+NS individuals experienced patterns of increasing shyness, while NBW controls displayed decreases in shyness into adulthood. We speculate that individuals exposed to multiple prenatal stressors (i.e., ELBW+S) may be developmentally programmed to be more sensitive to detecting social threat, with one manifestation being early developing, stable shyness, while increasing shyness among ELBW+NS individuals may reflect a later developing shyness influenced by postnatal context. We discuss the implications of these findings for understanding the developmental origins and developmental course of human shyness from childhood through adulthood.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Kristie L. Poole, McMaster University, Room 130, Psychology Building, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario, L8S 4K1, Canada; E-mail:


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Developmental programming of shyness: A longitudinal, prospective study across four decades

  • Kristie L. Poole (a1), Saroj Saigal (a2), Ryan J. Van Lieshout (a3) and Louis A. Schmidt (a1)


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