The Relationship between Nonverbal Affect Decoding and Shyness: Does Attentional Bias Play a Role?

Jaclyn Spiegel, Pace University


This study investigates factors corresponding to shyness by exploring the relationships among shyness, nonverbal affect decoding, and attentional bias in a non-clinical undergraduate population. Relevant research is reviewed, including literature exploring the conceptualization of shyness and its relationship to social phobia, the biological underpinnings of emotional recognition, the link between shyness and social competence, and the evidence for attentional bias in those with anxiety disorder. Previous studies have suggested that shy individuals tend to demonstrate poorer nonverbal emotional decoding skills than non-shy individuals (e.g., Strand, Cerna, & Downs, 2008). Additionally, it has been found that those with social phobia and shyness demonstrate an attentional bias for information related to their area of difficulty (e.g., Mattia, Heimberg & Hope, 1993). Based on previous findings, it was hypothesized that those higher in shyness would have more difficulty with tasks of nonverbal emotional decoding, and that attentional bias for shyness-related words would moderate this relationship. The final sample consisted of 88 undergraduate students from Pace University. Participants completed two subtests of the Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Accuracy – 2, a measure of nonverbal affect decoding; the Social Reticence Scale, a measure of shyness; and an emotional Stroop task, a measure of attentional bias. It was found that there was a significant relationship between shyness and nonverbal emotional decoding of vocal cues, both for general shyness and for shyness related to social isolation. This relationship did not exist for nonverbal emotional decoding of faces. Further, it was found that while attentional bias was not directly associated with shyness or nonverbal emotional decoding, it moderated the relationship between these factors. The relationship between shyness and nonverbal affect decoding of vocal cues existed for those with a low level of attentional bias, but not for those with a high level of attentional bias. Additionally, shyness involving isolation from others was specifically related to errors decoding happy voices and high intensity vocal stimuli. Overall, findings from this study suggest that difficulty with nonverbal decoding of vocal cues contributes to social discomfort in shyness, with those whose shyness involves isolation from others demonstrating more specific decoding difficulties.

Subject Area

Personality psychology

Recommended Citation

Spiegel, Jaclyn, "The Relationship between Nonverbal Affect Decoding and Shyness: Does Attentional Bias Play a Role?" (2011). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3467375.



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