Being extremely shy or getting fidgety over mingling with people is often considered a personality problem. Shyness can be noticed not only in adults but even in infants and children. According to an ongoing study by researchers from the Penn University, infants who are overly shy and petrified of newer things may be susceptible to developing anxiety problems later in life. The study, funded by the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), aims to unearth further information in this area to help such children.
Previous studies have found that extremely shy children might develop anxiety as they grow up. However, no comprehensive and detailed assessment have been done regarding the relationship between the two.
The researchers wanted to gauge the behavioral inhibition of their respondents, which is a normal tendency to recoil from unfamiliar environments, people and situations. All these could cause anxiety problems during adulthood, especially social anxiety, said Perez-Edgar, one of the three principal investigators of the multi-site project. The researchers want to learn about kids’ behavior in their social environment and their outlook towards the world.
During the initial two years of this long-term study, the researchers would look into different attention patterns in infants that are governed by various factors like biology, environment and parental behaviors.
A unique feature would be that the experiment would continue in three different sites more or less concurrently. „It will be interesting to see the commonalities and differences in what the infants are exposed to and their reactions,” said Perez-Edgar of the three testing sites.
Research to identifying triggers of anxiety to help children battle them
With the help of several testing methods, the researchers want to look into parameters like parental anxiety due to threats in their ward’s environment, psychosocial stressors of the child as well as symptoms. Ranging from a static eye tracking equipment to a children’s video to detect happy, neutral or sad faces and a slew of toys, the researchers are taking help from a handful of equipment. Even puppet shows are planned to help in the research.
The researchers intend to collect the data from two sources, an electroencephalogram meant for tracking the brain’s electrical activity and the other from an electrocardiograph, which records the electrical activity of the heart. Parents would have to complete questionnaires, which will be a measure of their characteristics, environmental stress levels at home, as well as an assessment of their child’s behavior.
Edgar further said that by identifying the stressors in the child, his or her attention can be amply diverted and the child can be trained not to run after things which may cause him/her anxiety and instead focus on something more rewarding.
The researchers are confident that the results would reveal a lot about the child, including the early emergence of behavioral inhibition, as well as how the structure of the brain and behavior influence each other. This, in turn, would enable them to help such children grow up to be well-adjusted and happy individuals.
Dealing with anxiety
Anxiety and stress can drive children into a cocoon of their own. Shy or timid children are plagued with constant anxiety from within. They need consistent reassurance to come out of the shadow of inner anxiety or stress. For the more severe conditions, treatment becomes inevitable. The same goes for adults as well. Major anxiety disorder problems can only be managed with the help of an expert.