The Upside to Embarrassment


Portrait of a young nomadic Turkish boy; photo by James L. Stanfield.


If you’re the sort of person who turns red at the mere thought of committing a social faux pas, scientists have some reassuring news for you.  A recent study by psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley found that people who are easily embarrassed are more likely to be trusted than individuals who are harder to fluster.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, consisted of several parts, including one in which participants were asked to observe and rate people who reacted to situations with embarrassment and those who did not.  Those who showed signs of embarrassment were more likely to be considered “prosocial” than those who remained unfazed.

And with good reason:  the researchers also found that people who are easily embarrassed are more likely to behave generously than those who are not.

So it turns out blushing is nothing to be ashamed of after all.  “Moderate levels of embarrassment are signs of virtue,” said Matthew Feinberg, the paper’s lead author.  “Our data suggests embarrassment is a good thing, not something you should fight.”

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Alyson Foster works in the National Geographic Library where she purchases books for the Library’s collection and assists NG staff with finding research materials.