Ah the joy of summer conferences! American Psychological Association had their annual conference in my lovely city of San Francisco this weekend, and one of the more interesting studies discussed was a study of kids who shoot other kids in school in mass murder attacks. They looked at eight teen shooters and rated them on what they call “cynical shyness.” Cynical shyness is a subset of normal shyness that involves anger and hostility towards others, especially when they are rejected.
Bernardo Carducci, lead author of the study and director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany explained:
“In addition to feelings of anxiety about social situations, cynically shy people, who are a small subclass of shy people, also have feelings of anger and hostility toward others and that comes from this sense of disconnect. Shyness has more in common with extroversion than with introversion. Shy people truly want to be with others, so they make the effort, but when they are rejected or ostracized, they disconnect. Once you disconnect, it’s very easy to start being angry and hate other people. It’s you against them, and they become what I call a cult of one. Once you start thinking ‘it’s me versus them,’ then it becomes easy to start hurting these people.”
Rating the eight teen shooters, they found that four of them had scores of 10 (on a 10 point scale) of cynical shyness, three had scores of 8, and one had a score of 6. Both of the Columbine shooters had scores of 10.
Now it should be pointed out that shyness per se is not dangerous. It is only this angry, cynical form of shyness, mainly found in teenage boys, that may be associated with dangerousness. And one weakness of the study is that they only looked at shooters. There may be many teens who score high on cynical shyness that do not escalate into violence. In fact this would be a good study, to identify what allows other cynically shy students NOT to become dangerous.
But shyness in pre-teens and adolescents is a serious disorder, as it can create intense misery in young people. Shy people desperately want to connect, they just don’t know how. Classes and workshops and group therapy approaches may be helpful in helping teens overcome this serious disorder.
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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.