News Release

Cynical shyness can precipitate violence in males and may be factor in school shootings

Building social skills and sense of belonging key to avoiding Virginia Tech-like situations

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Psychological Association

SAN FRANCISCO – After performing an analysis of school shootings in the last decade, researchers at the Shyness Research Institute in Indiana say that the perpetrators are likely to suffer from cynical shyness—an extreme form of shyness that predominantly affects males and can lead to violent behavior.

Presenting at the 115th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (APA), psychologist Bernardo Carducci, PhD, and Kristin Terry Nethery, BA, examined the cases involving eight individuals between 1995 and 2004 who had committed shootings at their high schools. They examined the news accounts of these shootings for personal and social indicators of cynical shyness—lack of empathy, low tolerance for frustration, anger outbursts, social rejection from peers, bad family relations and access to weapons.

“Our results indicate that the individuals involved in the seven deadly high school shootings within the last decade clearly had characteristics of cynical shyness. Most of what we see in individuals with this extreme form of shyness is that they tend to be male and desperately want to be socially engaged with other people. But often lacking in social skills, these individuals get rejected by their peers and then avoid social connections because of the resulting pain,” said the authors.

This rejection repeated over time can intensify feelings of hurt that can ultimately turn into anger. To handle the rejection, says Carducci, these males create what he calls a “cult of one.” “They end up alone and start hating the people who reject them. This allows the cynically shy person to distance himself from the hurt but also makes it easier for him to retaliate with violence, as in the case of these school shootings.”

To intervene early on and prevent future violence in schools, teachers, parents and mental health professionals need to be on the lookout for those students whose shyness is a source of anger and hostility, said Carducci. “Most young people who are shy do not experience their shyness as a source of anger and hostility. But for those shy students who are seemingly isolated and angry, we need to provide ways for them to learn how to engage with others and create a sense of community for themselves. This is especially true during times of transition, like going to college,” said Carducci.


Presentation: “High School Shooters as Cynically Shy: Content Analysis and Characteristic Features,” Bernardo J. Carducci, PhD and Kristin Terry Nethery, BA, Shyness Research Institute, Indiana University Southeast

Session 2309 – Poster Session: ADHD, Autism, Medical and Health Issues, and Behavior Problems, 3:00 – 3:50 PM, Saturday, August 18, Moscone Center, Exhibit Level-South Building, Halls ABC

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office

For more information/interview, please contact Bernardo J. Carducci at (812) 282-3938 or (502) 432-3169 (cell) or by e-mail at

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 148,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.

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