Vascular disease risk factors, urinary free cortisol, and health histories in older adults: Shyness and gender interactions

Iris R. Bell, Gregory M. Martino, Keith E. Meredith, Gary E. Schwartz, Melanie Mabry Siani, Frank D. Morrow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


We studied relationships between shyness and health during a health screening survey of older adults (ages 50-88) living in an active retirement community in the southwestern United States (n = 232). As in previous studies of infants, older individuals with hay fever, insomnia and constipation were more shy than those without these problems. Shy persons overall showed higher sitting systolic blood pressure and a larger fall in orthostatic systolic blood pressure on standing; shy men had a greater prevalence of hypertension histories than did low-shy men. Shy subjects of both sexes had lower HDL cholesterol and higher triglycerides than did low-shy subjects; shy women tended to have higher LDL cholesterol than did low-shy women. In contrast with findings of elevated salivary cortisol in extremely inhibited children of both sexes, only shy women had higher 24 h urinary free cortisol excretion than did low-shy women; men showed the opposite pattern, possibly related to suppression of aggression. Shy men also tended to report a higher prevalence of thyroid disease history than did low-shy men (20% versus 6%). Notably, autoimmune thyroiditis has previously been linked with panic and depression, disorders which in turn have been associated with shyness. Taken together with previous work in shy children and their families, the data raise the possibility of (a) increased risk for arteriosclerotic vascular disease; and (b) increased risk of adrenal- and/or thyroid-related diseases in certain shy older adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-49
Number of pages13
JournalBiological Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1993


  • Shyness, cortisol, hypertension, cholesterol, triglycerides, allergic rhinitis, insomnia, thyroid disease, aging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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