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Jennifer Christofferson, Carolyn Barry, Ph.D.

The Role of Self-Esteem in the Relation Between Shyness and Emerging Adults’ Romantic Relationship Characteristics

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Personality traits are extremely important in the growth and development of an individual.  One particularly influential trait is shyness. Shyness has been the topic of research in numerous studies and has been demonstrated to be associated with many developmental outcomes (Caspi & Silva, 1995; Kagan, Reznick, & Snidman, 1988; Rubin & Asendorpf, 1993a).  For instance, shy individuals have been found to have lower levels of self-esteem and to be at a greater risk for social difficulties later in life. While most research in the area of shyness and self-esteem has been conducted with infants and young adolescents, there is literature that indicates that temperament influences personality into the 30s (Terracciano, McCrae, & Costa, 2009).  Thus, it is necessary to examine shyness, self-esteem and psychosocial adjustment in later periods of life, such as emerging adulthood.    

Arnett (2000) contends emerging adulthood to be a new, distinct stage in the life course, for 18 to 25 year olds.  It is a time when emerging adults strive to develop a strong sense of identity and autonomy.  Given that this is a distinct time period, it is necessary to consider what tasks are required of emerging adults to achieve during this time period in order to ensure a successful transition.  One such task is becoming involved in intimate romantic relationships.  Conversely, due to the lack of stability in this time period, it follows that many things may disrupt the process of a successful transition to adulthood.  For instance, relationship success could easily be disrupted if one is shy or has low self-esteem.

While not many studies have examined shyness in emerging adulthood and what is necessary for a successful transition, it has been noted that personality traits are influential throughout adulthood.  Given the increasing variety of social contexts in which emerging adults are immersed (Arnett, 2000), it follows that shy emerging adults may experience more difficulty in this transition.  Further, because lower levels of self-esteem have been associated with shyness, self-esteem may add an extra burden to success in developmental tasks for shy individuals.  The current study aims to examine the relations among shyness types (shy, not anxious and shy, anxious individuals), romantic relationship characteristics (quality and duration) and self-esteem in emerging adults.  Undergraduates (N=792) from five universities (UC-Davis, LSU, KSU, Loyola and BYU) completed a questionnaire via the Internet, including measurement scales such as the Social Provisions Questionnaire, Social Preferences Scale, and the Ego Identity: Dating, Occupation, and Values/Beliefs Subscales.  It is hypothesized that the relation between shyness type and romantic relationship quality and duration will be mediated by self-esteem, suggesting lower reported levels of self-esteem in shy, anxious individuals and less success in romantic relationships, as compared to shy, not anxious individuals.  Compared to shy, anxious individuals, shy, not anxious individuals are hypothesized to report higher levels of self-esteem, and greater success in romantic relationships. 

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