BACKGROUND: Research has shown that shy children differ from their peers not only in their use of language in routine social encounters but also in formal assessments of their language development, including psychometric tests of vocabulary. There has been little examination of factors contributing to these individual differences. AIMS: To investigate cognitive-competence and social anxiety interpretations of differences in children's performance on tests of vocabulary. To examine the performance of shy and less shy children under different conditions of test administration, individually with an examiner or among their peers within the familiar classroom setting. SAMPLE: The sample consisted of 240 Year 5 pupils (122 male, 118 female) from 24 primary schools. METHOD: Shy and less shy children, identified by teacher nomination and checklist ratings, completed vocabulary and mental arithmetic tests in one of three conditions, in a between-subjects design. The conditions varied individual and group administration, and oral and written responses. RESULTS: The conditions of test administration influenced the vocabulary test performance of shy children. They performed significantly more poorly than their peers in the two face-to-face conditions but not in the group test condition. A comparable trend for the arithmetic test was not statistically significant. Across the sample as a whole, shyness correlated significantly with test scores. CONCLUSIONS: Shyness does influence children's cognitive test performance and its impact is larger when children are tested face-to-face rather than in a more anonymous group setting. The results are of significance for theories of shyness and have implications for the assessment of schoolchildren.
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