Are shy children sensitive to social or non-social incentives?
Research has shown that children who are shy are at higher risk of developing anxiety and substance use problems as adolescents and adults. These problems can affect their health, career choices, and general quality of life.
Dr. Ayelet Lahat, a psychologist at McMaster University's Child Emotion Lab, believes we can better understand these risks by studying these children's sensitivity to incentives. Her project is testing up to 200 children (ages 10 to 12), adolescents (ages 14-16) and university undergraduate students.
Each participant is given a cognitive task to perform on a computer, while an EEG net is placed on their scalp to measure event related potentials (ERPs), which are electrical potentials associated with a certain sensory or motor event. This method makes it possible to examine the neural mechanisms associated with task stimuli and performance. If a response is correct, a happy face appears on the screen (a social incentive), while an angry face pops up if they're wrong. Alternately, participants may receive money if they answer correctly (a non-social incentive), or lose money for a wrong answer. In the future, a functional MRI machine will be used to examine which regions of the brain are activated during this task.
"We need to study the underlying cognitive and neural mechanisms associated with shyness to help us understand why some children develop anxiety problems later in adolescence or adulthood while others don't. Our hope is to inform prevention and intervention efforts," says Dr. Lahat.
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