The downsides of shyness - even the mild forms - are widely known. Shy people tend to be lonelier and have fewer friends, and they are sometimes mistaken as cold and aloof. Avoiding social situations and failing to take risks can also limit employment opportunities: at work, shy people may be less likely to ask for a promotion or pursue a leadership role. In relationships, shyness can prevent people from approaching a romantic interest or disclosing their feelings. There is even some evidence that shyness can impair health. Shyness seems to be especially problematic when people are making the transition to college or to a new job, since the ability to reach out and establish new contacts is critical at these times. (For a more exhaustive review of the perils of shyness, see Philip Zimbardo's book or his Psychology Today article co-authored with Bernardo Carducci.)
Most of what you'll read about shyness is almost exclusively negative, and yet research suggests that at least 40% of Americans are chronically shy. A much higher number experience more temporary or situational shyness, making shyness "nearly universal", according to prominent psychologists. If shyness is so bad, why is it so common? Recent research suggests that shyness may have benefits not only for individuals, but for groups and societies as well.