Data analyses for the 21-year data have just begun. Here we will present a first set of results, which concern precursors of social anxiety symptoms, with a special focus on links from childhood shyness/inhibition. Shyness/inhibition and social anxiety are similarly conceptualized, in that both phenomena pertain to fear and anxiety experienced in performance and other social situations, although social anxiety is a more debilitating condition (cf. American Psychological Association, 2000). The ULS analyses of middle childhood data had shown that high shyness/inhibition predicted poor social competence as well as provided evidence indicating that a secure attachment relation to mother could mitigate this effect, results that motivated interest in predictive relations to 21-year data.
In the temperament field, shyness/inhibition has been pointed out specifically as a precursor of social anxiety (e.g., Schwartz, Snidman & Kagan, 1999). Degnan and Fox (2007) report that this hypothesis has been supported in studies of both adolescents and adults, although no study on a normal sample seems to have had the ULS kind of prospective, longitudinal design, spanning from infancy to adulthood. Degnan and Fox (2007) also point out that in spite of the significant stability of shyness/inhibition and its predictive value for later anxiety disorders, there is also evidence for discontinuity, which suggests the possibility of a resilience process, that is, “achieving positive adaptation despite experiencing significant threat, adversity, or risk” (p. 733). Thus, influences from, for instance, attachment processes and social factors could moderate the temperamental tendencies, thus constituting protective factors acting against development of high social anxiety. In the present analyses, our broad approach with temperament, attachment, and social factors was applied to achieve a deeper understanding of social anxiety development, using linear as well as moderator models. In line with this general approach it was of interest to apply a broad perspective also in elucidating temperamental influences in the trajectory to social anxiety. Therefore, the other EAS traits, negative emotionality, activity, and sociability (Buss & Plomin, 1984) were explored in addition to shyness/inhibition. Previous studies point to high negative emotionality as a nonspecific factor predictive of both social anxiety and depression (Hyde, Mezulis & Abrahamson, 2008). However, the distinction between negative emotionality in reactions to novelty (shyness/inhibition) and general negative reactions has frequently not been upheld. As a test of the specificity of social anxiety predictors, we studied independent contributions from emotionality and shyness, as well as from other temperament traits in predicting depression and social anxiety symptoms. Thus, the research questions concerned prediction of social anxiety symptoms in adulthood from preschool temperament and experiences, and whether the precursors of social anxiety symptoms could be distinguished from those of depression symptoms, which often include features of social anxiety (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
Shyness/inhibition and attachment security were expected to contribute to long-term social adjustment via direct links. We also expected moderating influences on effects of high shyness/inhibition; a sensitive mother should know how to handle her child’s social withdrawal tendencies (cf. Degnan & Fox, 2007). Further, child care arrangements are potentially important for social development (cf. Degnan & Fox, 2007). Non-parental day care in Sweden has previously shown its capacity to contribute to positive social adjustment in both direct and moderator models, and may be expected to lessen social reticence also in a long-term perspective. Finally, child stress experiences in connection with negative life events could be a risk factor for negative development, both directly and in interaction with temperament (Hagekull & Bohlin, 1998).