Shyness Affects Dating and Sex Stereotypes for College Students,
Says Wellesley Psychology Professor

July 9, 2007
Molly Tarantino

WELLESLEY, Mass. -- According to recent estimates, between 40 and 50 percent of college students consider themselves to be shy. In the United States, this trait can be a barrier to personal well-being, social adjustment and occupational fulfillment.

“This is a culture that is unfriendly to shyness,” said Wellesley College Professor Jonathan Cheek, psychology.

Shyness can be more troubling for men because the traditional male role requires assertive and competitive behavior. Although our culture might take it easier on women who are shy, we don’t necessarily want it to, Cheek argues.

“Do we want young women to comfortably slip into sex-role stereotypes?” Cheek said. “Shyness becomes a women’s liberation issue.”

This summer, Cheek will teach a Wellesley College summer seminar, “The Psychology of Shyness,” July 16- Aug. 10, in which his students will study everything from “shyness drugs” to evolutionary perspectives on shyness in animals — the idea that shyness is partly a product of genetics.

The use of “shyness drugs,” such as Paxil, for the treatment of social problems including anxiety, has been growing in recent years.  Social anxiety is extreme shyness, usually coupled with other problems such as depression, that affects a person’s ability to function in daily life and experience normative life stages.

In the past some of Cheek’s students have chosen to focus on the differences in shyness between people. One student focused her studies on the differences between shy men and women when it came to dating in college. She found both sexes had difficulty, but men’s shyness resulted in few opportunities while shy women were more likely to have disappointing experiences.

“Men just wouldn’t have dates or relationships,” Cheek said. “Women would have dates or relationships but would have problems with the quality of those relationships.”

For more information on Cheek’s studies, or to test how shy you are, visit

Since 1875, Wellesley College has been a leader in providing an excellent liberal arts education for women who will make a difference in the world. Its 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,300 undergraduate students from all 50 states and 68 countries.