Shyness Skews Child Language Assessments

Summary: Shyness can notably impact a child’s performance in language assessments, particularly those requiring higher levels of social interaction.

The research, encompassing 122 children aged 17-42 months, explored how different levels of social interaction in language tasks affected their performance, revealing shyer children struggled more with verbally intensive tasks.

While all children excelled in lower-interaction tasks like pointing, shyer children presented inconsistencies in more socially demanding activities.

The study emphasizes the necessity of considering a child’s shyness when conducting language assessments to ensure accurate and comprehensive understanding of their linguistic abilities.

Key Facts:

  1. Impact of Shyness: The study observed that shyer children tended to perform worse in language tasks requiring verbal responses (production task) compared to their less-shy counterparts.
  2. Consistency in Non-Verbal Tasks: All children, regardless of their shyness level, performed well in tasks requiring lower social interaction, such as pointing tasks.
  3. Adaptation for Assessment: Acknowledging shyness as a significant factor in a child’s performance on language tasks could aid professionals in crafting more accurate and child-friendly linguistic assessments.

Source: SMU

A recent study from SMU psychologist Sarah Kucker and a student she mentored at Oklahoma State University suggests shyness can influence a child’s performance in language assessments, depending on the level of social interaction required to complete the test.

Shy children tend to be reserved in everyday life, including communicating with others. The study concludes that the behavior can make accurately assessing a child’s language abilities more challenging since shy children find it harder to verbally engage with clinicians and teachers than during less socially demanding tests.

This shows a shy child.
The results revealed significant differences in children’s performance across the tasks depending on shyness. Credit: Neuroscience News

The research by Liesl Melnick, now a graduate student at Eastern Illinois University, and Kucker was published in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, and involved 122 children of varying temperaments between the ages of 17 and 42 months.

Each child underwent a series of three language tasks that required different levels of social interaction: a looking task, a pointing task, and a production task that required children to say the answer verbally.

In each, the children were asked to find a known object from a set of pictures. The order of tasks was randomized for unbiased results and data was collected through Zoom. Parents reported their child’s shyness using an early childhood behavior questionnaire.

The results revealed significant differences in children’s performance across the tasks depending on shyness. Shyer children did worse on the production task than their less-shy counterparts. However, all children performed well on the pointing task regardless of their shyness level. The looking task yielded more nuanced results, indicating that shyer children were occasionally more accurate but less likely to respond.

“A child’s temperament, especially their shyness, could strongly impact how they will do in language tasks,” said Kucker, SMU assistant professor of psychology. “When children are given assessments to evaluate their language abilities, clinicians and teachers should take into account the child’s shyness level, perhaps using tasks that are less burdensome for them, such as pointing tasks instead of verbal ones.”

Kucker believes acknowledging the impact of shyness will help professionals ensure language assessments are more effective and provide a more comprehensive understanding of a child’s linguistic development. Moving forward, she and her team plan to explore the performance of shy and less-shy children on standardized language assessments.

About this language research news

Author: Sarah Kucker
Source: SMU
Contact: Sarah Kucker – SMU
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Closed access.
The Influence of Shyness on Language Assessment” by Sarah Kucker et al. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research


The Influence of Shyness on Language Assessment


The goal of this study is to examine how shyness affects a child’s performance on language assessments that vary in sociability. We hypothesized that accuracy on language tasks would be driven by shyness such that shyer children would perform better on nonsociable tasks compared to sociable tasks.


The procedures followed a quasi-experimental design. One hundred twenty-two participants, ages 17–42 months and varying in their temperament, each underwent a series of three language tasks. The order of tasks was randomized, and each task varied in the social interaction required: a looking task, a pointing task, and a production task. Data were collected via Zoom, and parents reported their child’s shyness level via the Early Child Behavior Questionnaire.


Shyness was compared with participants’ accuracy across the three tests while controlling for age and vocabulary percentile. There were significant differences in children’s performance across the tasks, with respect to shyness. Shyer children performed worse on the production task compared to less shy children. All children did well on the pointing task regardless of shyness level, but performance was more nuanced on the looking task such that shyer children were at times more accurate but also less likely to respond in general.


As shown by these results, shyer and less shy children respond differentially to methods of language assessment that vary in sociability. It is important for clinicians to acknowledge shyness when choosing an appropriate assessment of children’s language. Future direction includes assessing performance on standardized assessments.

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