People who are easily embarrassed are seen as more trustworthy, research finds.
Not only that, but people who are easily embarrassed report higher levels of monogamy.
So, embarrassment can also be a sign of fidelity.
Dr Robb Willer, one of the study’s authors, said:
“Embarrassment is one emotional signature of a person to whom you can entrust valuable resources.
It’s part of the social glue that fosters trust and cooperation in everyday life.”
Embarrassment, it seems, is nothing to be embarrassed about.
Dr Matthew Feinberg, the study’s first author, said:
“Moderate levels of embarrassment are signs of virtue.
Our data suggests embarrassment is a good thing, not something you should fight.”
Of course, we are talking about normal levels of embarrassment, not the crippling problems that can affect people experiencing social anxiety disorder.
The typical signs of embarrassment are:
- looking down,
- while covering part of the face with the hand,
- and grimacing or smirking.
Those experiencing shame, in comparison, typically cover their whole face.
For the research 60 people were videotaped talking about embarrassing moments they had experienced.
These included things like:
- public flatulence,
- thinking an overweight woman was pregnant,
- and giving money to an untidy person who was not actually panhandling.
The videos were analysed for the amount of embarrassment that people showed.
Afterwards they played a game designed to test generosity.
Again, this found a link between being easily embarrassed and being generous to others.
A final study had people judging a trained actor who acted out getting a perfect score on a test.
Some people watched a version where he was embarrassed about his success, others watched a version where he was pleased with his success.
It turned out that people trusted him more if he acted embarrassed.
Dr Feinberg said:
“You want to affiliate with them more, you feel comfortable trusting them.”
The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Feinberg et al., 2012).