Psychologists Bernardo Carducci, PhD, and Kristin Terry Nethery, BA from the Shyness Research Institute in Indiana, US examined cases involving eight individuals between 1995 and 2004 who had committed shootings at their high schools.
The researchers 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.
Findings revealed that 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," the authors said in their report.
Carducci said, over time, this rejection could intensify feelings of hurt that could ultimately turn into anger. To handle the rejection, these males create what can be called a "cult of one," Carducci said.
"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," he said.
As such, 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," he said.
The study was presented at the 115th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (APA).