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Millennials or Gen Z: Who Shows Greater Shyness?

A new study investigates a quiet generational divide.

Key points

  • Generations differ in attitudes, values, and beliefs.
  • A new study investigated whether Millennials and Gen Z differ in terms of shyness.
  • It found Gen Z was significantly more shy than Millennials.

Different generations are thought to hold distinct beliefs, values, and attitudes that are shaped by the cultural events of the time in which they grew up. For example, Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) is the first generation that has been brought up with access to smartphones, mobile internet, and social media, and it is widely assumed that these technologies shape social life for those in Generation Z compared to earlier generations. One hypothesis is that Generation Z may be more socially cautious and shy than previous generations, as they interact with others more often online, however, this idea has not been systematically tested in psychological science. To what degree is the generalization true?

A new study comparing shyness in Millennials and Generation Z

Therefore, a new scientific publication entitled “iGen or shyGen? Generational Differences in Shyness,” now published in the prestigious journal Psychological Science, focused on comparing shyness in Generation Z and Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) (Schmidt et al., 2023).

In the study, which was first-authored by scientist Louis A. Schmidt from the Department of Psychology of McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, shyness was investigated in different groups of undergraduates using a questionnaire. Data was also taken from previous studies that took place over 20 years, between 1999 and 2020. In total, the study analyzed data from 806 students between 17 and 25 years of age.

Three groups of undergraduates were compared:

  • 266 Millennials
  • 263 Generation Z individuals that were tested before the COVID-19 pandemic
  • 277 Generation Z individuals that were tested during the COVID-19 pandemic

All of these undergraduates filled out the same shyness questionnaire.

A generational divide in shyness

The scientist found a striking result: The levels of shyness became significantly higher over time. Generation Z before the pandemic showed higher shyness than Millennials and the highest shyness was shown by Generation Z during the pandemic.

This is a good piece of evidence in favor of the idea that members of Generation Z are, indeed, more shy than Millennials. This effect was only amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, likely because social distancing measures reduced the opportunities for social interactions.

The scientists concluded that growing up with smartphones and social media during formative childhood and adolescence years could lead to increased shyness as Generation Z may have had fewer opportunities to develop social skills and which may lead to greater social anxiety and shyness. Moreover, the scientists suggested the increased social comparisons and unrealistic expectations due to social media use may also have led to a greater sensitivity to being judged by others, also resulting in greater shyness.


Schmidt LA, Brook CA, Hassan R, MacGowan T, Poole KL, Jetha MK. iGen or shyGen? Generational Differences in Shyness. Psychol Sci. 2023 Apr 27:9567976231163877.

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