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Submitted by Lori Conlan July 5, 2011

What does it mean to be “shy” or “introverted”? These words come with negative baggage.  U.S. culture values engaging others and taking action. Scientific culture expects us both to work independently - a skill that involves careful reflection on one’s own - and to collaborate easily with colleagues. Introverts in the U.S. may feel underappreciated or even threatened by these  expectations of extraverted behavior. Cultural values are often reflected not just in social expectations, but also in our view of what constitutes a mental disorder. Until 1980, “shyness” was considered normal; in that year “social anxiety disorder” was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which catalogs mental disorders.  Some might suggest that this action pathologizes both shyness and introversion. The article “Shyness: An Evolutionary Tactic”  (The New York Times, June 25, 2011) asks whether society has gone too far in pathologizing introverted traits and suggests instead that we consider their benefits.

Picture: Cover art from children's book sold by Amazon: Shy Creatures by David Mack: