Is shyness something encoded in one's genes, or is it the result of upbringing and the environment? Experts say it is a bit of both.
In a new report, the BBC's CrowdScience spoke to experts to find out why some people grow up shy and how to overcome it.
What Makes A Person Shy
The American Psychological Association defines shyness as a person's tendency to feel awkward, tense, or worried during social interaction. Sometimes, physical symptoms like blushing, sweating, a pounding heart, or an upset stomach manifest among those who are severely shy.
Shy people have a tendency to withdraw from or avoid situations where they might have to interact with other people.
For years, scientists have been exploring human DNA to find genetic variants that influence a person's personality and mental health. However, according to Thalia Eley, a professor of developmental behavioral genetics at Kings College London, only about 30 percent of shyness as a trait is due to genetics. The rest is a response to the environment.
"We think of shyness as a temperamental trait and temperament is like a precursor to personality," Eley told CrowdScience. "When very young children are starting to engage with other people you see variation in how comfortable [they] are in speaking to an adult that they don't know."
The environment is almost more important for the development of these traits, but genetics still wields a major influence over a person. For example, a shy child is more likely to stand back and watch classmates play. When they grow up, they find comfort in being alone.
"It's not that it's one or the other; it's both [genes and environment] and they work together," added Eley. "It's a dynamic system. And because of that, you can always change it through psychological therapies that can teach you techniques to cope."
How To Cope With Shyness
According to Chloe Foster, a clinical psychologist at the Center for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma, shyness is quite common. However, to some, it becomes a problem. People who seek treatment for severe shyness when they begin to avoid things they have to do, like simply talking to a co-worker.
The most effective way to overcome shyness is through cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. It works by helping the patient change their thought and behavioral patterns that exacerbate the problem. For example, rehearsing what to say in advance might be making people more socially anxious. Those who are terrified of public speaking, meanwhile, might have very high standards for themselves.
Foster said that people should try to focus on what is happening around them instead of on what they feel. She also suggested opening one's self to new experiences, being open to new situations, and being involved in social situations would build confidence.