Frontal Brain Asymmetry and the Trajectory of Shyness Across the Early School Years
Although resting right frontal electroencephalogram (EEG) asymmetry has been linked to avoidance and withdrawal-related behaviors such as shyness in previous cross-sectional studies, relatively little research has examined the influence of frontal brain electrical activity on the development of shyness in children using a prospective, longitudinal study design. Here, we tested whether resting frontal EEG asymmetry predicted the trajectory of children’s shyness across five assessments. Children were enrolled in the study during the summer prior to grade 1 (N = 37; Mage = 6.39 years, S.D. = 0.15 years), at which time resting frontal EEG activity and maternal report of children’s shyness were collected. Mothers then reported on their child’s shyness over another four follow-up assessments, spanning 2 years (winter of grade 1, summer prior to grade 2 entry, winter of grade 2, and summer prior to grade 3). Growth curve analysis revealed that children displaying greater relative right frontal EEG activity had lower levels of shyness relative to children exhibiting greater relative left frontal EEG activity at study enrollment (i.e., age 6), but displayed statistically significant linear increases in shyness across time, with the highest levels of shyness by the summer prior to grade 3 (i.e., age 8). There was, however, no relation between left frontal EEG asymmetry and change in shyness across time. These preliminary findings suggest that right frontal EEG asymmetry may reflect a biological diathesis for the growth of shyness during the early school years.
KeywordsShyness Child development Electroencephalography (EEG) Longitudinal studies Trajectory
This research was supported by a Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) Doctoral Research Award awarded to KLP, and operating grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) awarded to LAS. The authors wish to thank the children and their mothers for their dedicated participation in this study. We also wish to thank Amy Deconinck, Carrie Sniderman, and Laura Theall-Honey for assistance with data collection, and Zahra Khalesi and Anna Swain for their help with data entry.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Ethical approval was provided by the McMaster University Research Ethics Board.
Informed consent was obtained from mothers of all children in the study.
- Beaton, E. A., Schmidt, L. A., Ashbaugh, A. R., Santesso, D. L., Antony, M. M., & McCabe, R. E. (2008). Resting and reactive frontal brain electrical activity (EEG) among a non-clinical sample of socially anxious adults: Does concurrent depressive mood matter? Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 4, 187–192.Google Scholar
- Brooker, R. J., Buss, K. A., Lemery-Chalfant, K., Aksan, N., Davidson, R. J., & Goldsmith, H. H. (2013). The development of stranger fear in infancy and toddlerhood: Normative development, individual differences, antecedents, and outcomes. Developmental Science, 16, 864–878.Google Scholar
- Buss, A. H. & Plomin, R. (1984) Theory and measurement of EAS, temperament: Early developing personality traits, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
- Coplan, R. J., Ooi, L. L., & Baldwin, D. (2018). Does it matter when we want to be alone? Exploring developmental timing effects in the implications of unsociability. New Ideas in Psychology. In Press.Google Scholar
- Davidson, R. J. (1993). The neuropsychology of emotion and affective style. In M. Lewis & J. M. Haviland (Eds.), Handbook of emotion (pp. 143–154). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
- Engfer, A. (1993). Antecedents and consequences of shyness in boys and girls: A 6-year longitudinal study. In K. H. Rubin & J. B. Asendorpf (Eds.), Social withdrawal, inhibition, and shyness in children (pp. 49–79). Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
- Fox, N. A. (1994). Dynamic cerebral processes underlying emotion regulation. In N. A. Fox (Ed.), The development of emotion regulation: Behavioral and biological considerations. Monographs of the society for research in child development, 59 (2–3, Serial No. 240), 152–166.Google Scholar
- Gartstein, M. A., Bridgett, D. J., & Low, C. (2012) Asking questions about temperament: Self- and other-report measures across the lifespan. In M. Zentner & R. L. Shiner (Eds.), Handbook of Temperament (pp. 183–208). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- Hannesdóttir, D. K., Doxie, J., Bell, M. A., Ollendick, T. H., & Wolfe, C. D. (2010). A longitudinal study of emotion regulation and anxiety in middle childhood: Associations with frontal EEG asymmetry in early childhood. Developmental Psychobiology, 52, 197–204.Google Scholar
- Jasper, H. H. (1958). The ten-twenty electrode system of the international federation. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 10, 371–375.Google Scholar
- Karevold, E., Ystrom, E., Coplan, R. J., Sanson, A. V., & Mathiesen, K. S. (2012). A prospective longitudinal study of shyness from infancy to adolescence: Stability, age-related changes, and prediction of socio-emotional functioning. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 40, 1167–1177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Lagattuta, K. H., & Thompson, R. A. (2007). The development of self-conscious emotions: Cognitive processes and social influences. In J. L. Tracy, R. W. Robins, & J. Price Tangney (Eds.), The self-conscious emotions: Theory and research (pp. 91–113). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
- Piaget, J. (1970). Piaget’s theory. In P. H. Mussen (Ed.), Carmichael’s manual of child psychology (3rd ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 703–732). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
- Poole, K. L., Tang, A., & Schmidt, L. A. (2018b). The temperamentally shy child as the social adult: An exemplar of multifinality. In K. Perez-Edgar & N. A. Fox (Eds.), Behavioral inhibition: Integrating theory, research, and clinical perspectives (pp. 185–212). Cham: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Rosen, J. B., & Schulkin, J. (1998). From normal fear to pathological anxiety. Psychological Review, 105, 325-350.Google Scholar
- Rubin, K. H., & Coplan, R. J. (Eds.). (2010). The development of shyness and social withdrawal. Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- Schmidt, L. A., & Miskovic, V. (2014). Shyness and the electrical activity of the brain: On the interplay between theory and method. In R. J. Coplan & J. Bowker (Eds.), The handbook of solitude: Psychological perspectives on social isolation, social withdrawal, and being alone (pp. 51–70). Malden: Wiley.Google Scholar
- Schmidt, L.A., & Poole, K.L. (2018). On the bifurcation of temperamental shyness: Development, adaptation, and neoteny. New Ideas in Psychology, In press.Google Scholar
- Schmidt, L. A., & Schulkin, J. (Eds.). (1999). Extreme fear, shyness, and social phobia: Origins, biological mechanisms, and clinical outcomes. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Schmidt, L. A., Polak, C. P., & Spooner, A. L. (2005). Biological and environmental contributions to childhood shyness: A diathesis-stress model. In W. R. Crozier & L. E. Alden (Eds.), The essential handbook of social anxiety for clinicians (pp. 33–55). United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
- Schmidt, L. A., & Buss, A. H. (2010). Understanding shyness: Four questions and four decades of research. In K. R. Rubin, & R. J. Coplan (Eds.). The development of shyness and social withdrawal (pp. 23–41). New York: Guildford Publications.Google Scholar
- Tullett, A. M., Harmon-Jones, E., & Inzlicht, M. (2012). Right frontal cortical asymmetry predicts empathic reactions: Support for a link between withdrawal motivation and empathy. Psychophysiology, 49, 1145–1153.Google Scholar