|Study Finds Embarrassment Fosters Cooperation|
|Living - Relationships|
|TS-Si News Service|
|Thursday, 29 September 2011 08:00|
Berkeley, CA, USA. A new study suggests that people who are easily embarrassed are more trustworthy and generous, with their embarrassment functioning as the social glue that fosters cooperation.
In short, if tripping in public or mistaking an overweight woman for a mother-to-be leaves you red-faced, don't feel bad: embarrassment can be a good thing.
"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," said Robb Willer, a social psychologist from the University of California, Berkeley, and coauthor of the study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Not only are the findings useful for people seeking cooperative and reliable team members and business partners, but they also make for helpful dating advice. Subjects who were more easily embarrassed reported higher levels of monogamy, according to the study.
"Moderate levels of embarrassment are signs of virtue"
So says Matthew Feinberg, a doctoral student in psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the paper. "Our data suggests embarrassment is a good thing, not something you should fight." Another co-author, psychologist Dacher Keltner, is an expert on pro-social emotions.
Researchers point out that the moderate type of embarrassment should not be confused with debilitating social anxiety or with "shame," which is associated in the psychology literature with such moral transgressions as being caught cheating.
The most typical embarrassment gesture is a downward gaze to one side while partially covering the face and either smirking or grimacing. On the other hand, a person who feels shame will typically cover the whole face.The results were gleaned from a series of experiments that used video testimonials, economic trust games and surveys to gauge the relationship between embarrassment and pro-sociality.
In the first experiment, 60 college students were videotaped recounting embarrassing moments such as public flatulence or making incorrect assumptions based on appearances. Typical sources of embarrassment included mistaking an overweight woman for being pregnant or a disheveled person for being a panhandler. Research assistants coded each video testimonial based on the level of embarrassment the subjects showed.
The college students also participated in the Dictator Game, which is used in economics research to measure altruism. For example, each was given 10 raffle tickets and asked to keep a share of the tickets and give the remainder to a partner. Results showed that those who showed greater levels of embarrassment tended to give away more of their raffle tickets, indicating greater generosity.
Researchers also surveyed 38 Americans whom they recruited through Craigslist. Survey participants were asked how often they feel embarrassed. They were also gauged for their general cooperativeness and generosity through such exercises as the aforementioned dictator game.
In another experiment, participants watched a trained actor being told he received a perfect score on a test. The actor responded with either embarrassment or pride. They then played games with the actor that measured their trust in him based on whether he had shown pride or embarrassment.
Time and again, the results showed that embarrassment signals people's tendency to be pro-social, Feinberg said. "You want to affiliate with them more," he said, "you feel comfortable trusting them."
So, can one infer from the results that overly confident people aren't trustworthy? While the study didn't delve into that question, researchers say they may look into that in the future.
CitationFlustered and faithful: Embarrassment as a signal of prosociality. Matthew Feinberg, Robb Willer, Dacher Keltner. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2011. doi:10.1037/a0025403
Although individuals experience embarrassment as an unpleasant, negative emotion, the authors argue that expressions of embarrassment serve vital social functions, signaling the embarrassed individual's prosociality and fostering trust. Extending past research on embarrassment as a nonverbal apology and appeasement gesture, the authors demonstrate that observers recognize the expression of embarrassment as a signal of prosociality and commitment to social relationships. In turn, observers respond with affiliative behaviors toward the signaler, including greater trust and desire to affiliate with the embarrassed individual. Five studies tested these hypotheses and ruled out alternative explanations. Study 1 demonstrated that individuals who are more embarrassable also reported greater prosociality and behaved more generously than their less embarrassable counterparts. Results of Studies 2–5 revealed that observers rated embarrassed targets as being more prosocial and less antisocial relative to targets who displayed either a different emotion or no emotion. In addition, observers were more willing to give resources and express a desire to affiliate with these targets, and these effects were mediated by perceptions of the targets as prosocial.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 29 September 2011 07:31|