Childhood shyness and maternal social phobia: a community study

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Background Family history data suggest the possibility of an association between childhood shyness and parental social phobia.

Aims To examine the prevalence of maternal affective disorder in a community sample of four-year-old shy and non-shy children.

Method By screening 867 children, 43 shy children, 59 children with another form of disturbance (i.e. fearfulness, feeding problem or conduct problem) and 26 children with no disturbance were identified. Interviewers who were unaware of child status used a standardised mental state assessment to determine the rate of affective disorder in the mothers of these children.

Results Compared with the mothers of the children in both comparison groups, the mothers of the children who were purely shy (i.e. shy children with no comorbid condition) had a significantly raised lifetime rate of anxiety disorder in general, and social phobia in particular. The odds ratio of a social phobia in the mothers of the purely shy children was raised over the normal control group by a factor of more than seven.

Conclusions These findings suggest a specific association between childhood shyness and maternal social phobia.

Declaration of interest Supported by the Tedworth Trust.

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