Secrets of the Shy

Why so bashful? Science finds something complex--and cunning--behind the curtain

It's hard to get much lower-tech than the laboratory of psychologist Sam Putnam at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. The equipment here is strictly five-and-dime--soap bubbles, Halloween masks, noisemakers--but the work Putnam is doing is something else entirely. On any given day, the lab bustles with toddlers who come to play with his toys and be observed while they do so. Some of the children rush at the bubbles, delight at the noise toys, squeal with pleasure when a staff member dons a mask. Others stand back, content to observe. Others cry.

Those differences are precisely what Putnam is looking for....

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