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June 1, 2013
By A. Lee, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Shy guys really are different. In ways that scientists are just now
beginning to fully understand, shy men have developed special
strategies for coping with the world that sometimes put them at a
disadvantage and sometimes actually give them an edge.
Shy Guys Play a Different Blame Game
Shy heterosexual men differ a lot from socially assertive heterosexual
men in assigning blame for social interactions that don’t work out. It
boils down to something psychologists called “attribution”. Shy people
attribute their social failures to themselves ---“it’s not you, it’s me, it’s
always me”. A shy man who approaches a woman and is rejected will
attribute the failure to something missing in him. Outgoing men, on the
other hand, attribute failure in social situations to externals causes ---
“it’s not me, it’s you”. An outgoing man who fails to win over a woman
almost invariably walks away thinking, “her loss”.
In a 1981 study of shy heterosexual men led by Dr. Michael Girado of
the University of Ottawa, researchers found that shy men attribute their
success to their own abilities and efforts. Outgoing men attribute their
outcomes to either luck or difficult situations. Consider two men who
are comics, one shy one outgoing. If their acts bomb, the shy comic will
attribute the failure to his own efforts –“my jokes stink”. The outgoing
comic will attribute his failure to luck or the situation ---“wow, tough
house out there tonight”.
Neither approach is inherently better than the other. Both can lead to
success. In fact, the shy guy’s approach will make him re-evaluate
himself more, which may make him fine tune his approach a lot quicker.
The outgoing guy, unable to see himself as the cause of the problem, is
unlikely to learn from his experience as well as a shy guy. But, since he
is outgoing, he will meet a lot more people ---women—so he will have
more chances to succeed.
Shy Guys Are Shy Even If the Women Isn’t Real
Shy men are different from outgoing men in another important aspect.
Shy men are anxious when approaching women. On the other hand,
outgoing men only get nervous when others are watching.
One eye-opening experiment carried out in by researchers from
University College London 2007 shows the difference. The site of the
experiment was the ICREA - Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya,
Virtual Reality Centre of Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain.
In this experiment, scientists created a virtual woman who was much
like a hologram. They placed her in a bar, which was actually a dark
cave-like room with virtual people in it. The whole experience would be
like actually going through the screen into an extremely realistic video
game. The virtual woman spoke English with a Portuguese accent.
The virtual woman was quite realistic, as the comments of the men who
As one man said:
“I was amazed most of all when the virtual woman started
coming on to me - I felt guilty as I am involved with someone and
felt tempted to do something illicit. The idea of cheating on my
partner with this virtual woman caused a real physical and
emotional response - this was the strongest and most surprising
aspect of the experience.”
Another man noted:
“The initiation of a conversation by the woman and the sheer
life-like quality of the conversation at most times made me unaware
that I was surrounded by others in a party. This was particularly the
case as she moved much closer to talk to me. I am impressed and a
little surprised at just how close to real life this virtual reality study
The virtual woman approached the man, and flirted with him. Each of
the men was wearing patches which tested how anxious they became
as the interaction progressed. At the end of the experiment, the
researchers discovered that shy men became anxious as they interacted
with the virtual woman.
Outgoing men did not become anxious as they interacted with the
virtual women but they did become anxious when other virtual people
in the virtual bar watched them.
This may strike some of you are counterintuitive. Why wouldn’t shy
guys become even more anxious than outgoing guys when being
watched? Perhaps it’s because for shy men, the biggest fear is one-on-
one interaction. How many times have you heard entertainers who are
perfectly comfortable performing in front of millions of people say that
they’re actually shy. The list of athletes and entertainers who are shy is
long –Rafael Nadal, Eli Manning, David Letterman, Brad Pitt, Michael
Jackson and on and on.
Bottom line: if you’re shy with women or shy with people one-on-one,
you are not a freak. You may in fact have an advantage in the natural
tools you have to evaluate your performance. You are a learning
machine. And, in the end, learning machines tend to win.
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|Brad Pitt and Eli Manning are shy in their personal lives, friends