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Very shy children may process some facial expressions differently


Children who appear to have higher levels of shyness, or a particular gene, appear to have a different pattern of processing the signals of interpersonal hostility, according to a study in the January issue of The Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

According to background information in the article, "Neuroimaging studies are beginning to clarify the relationship between the brain’s cortical and subcortical activity in regulating the emotional and cognitive functions of behavior." … "A temperamental disposition toward the avoidance of novel and uncertain situations together with a set of behaviors that indicate shyness and discomfort in social interactions are comprehensively named childhood shyness, or behavioral inhibition (BI). Children with high indexes of shyness-BI are at a heightened risk of developing anxiety disorders, in particular social phobia."

Marco Battaglia, M.D., from the Istituto Scientifico San Raffaele, Milan, Italy, and colleagues analyzed the responses of 49 third- and fourth-grade schoolchildren (characterized as shy) to different emotional facial expressions. The researchers showed the study participants pictures of boys and girls with facial expressions that depicted joy, neutrality, and anger. The study participants were assessed through questionnaires and responses were also recorded with electrodes measuring brain wave activity.

The researchers found that the shyness-BI index and the presence of particular forms of the serotonin transporter promoter gene predicted smaller responses to overtly hostile and neutral facial expressions in certain regions of the brain. The researchers suggest that their findings indicate diminished brain involvement and partially impaired reading in response to some facial expressions. "Shy children have been shown to provide relatively distinct physiologic responses in a variety of contexts," the researchers write. "These data suggest that a biased pattern of processing emotional information of social relevance can be recognized and characterized…early in life."

Marco Battaglia, M.D. | EurekAlert!
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