April 22, 2011
Brain Region Determines Embarrassment Level

If you could suppress your brain's "pregenual anterior cingulate cortex" you could probably avoid the feeling of embarrassment.

The twist to the experiment was that most of the subjects had neurodegenerative diseases, which helped scientists identify a thumb-sized bit of tissue in the right hemisphere of the front part of the brain called the "pregenual anterior cingulate cortex" as integral to embarrassment.

The degree to which the singers were embarrassed in hearing themselves sing "My Girl" the 1964 hit by the Temptations depended on the integrity of this particular region.

"In healthy people, watching themselves sing elicits a considerable embarrassment reaction," said Virginia Sturm, a postdoctoral fellow at UCSF. Their blood pressure goes up, their heart rate increases, and their breathing changes, she explained. People who had neurological damage in the medial frontal cortex, however, responded more indifferently.

Too embarrassed to learn singing or to approach someone you have a crush on? It'd be mighty handy to be able to push a button on your iPhone and turn turn your pregenual anterior cingulate cortex. Maybe in 20 or 30 years you'll be able to get injected by nanobots that travel to that part of the brain and then start listening for orders to suppress neural activity.

Then there's offspring genetic engineering. When it becomes possible to choose genetic variants that control the size of the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex will you want to make your kids have a smaller one or a bigger one you have?

"This brain region predicted the behavior," said Sturm. "The smaller the region, the less embarrassed the people were."

The feeling of embarrassment is a restraint on behavior. Imagine that anyone who wants a job on Wall Street was required to have a pregenual anterior cingulate cortex with some minimum size to assure they can feel embarrassed. Would they be less likely to do corrupt things? Ditto elected officials. Require a bigger pregenual anterior cingulate cortex at each step up in elected level?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 April 22 09:30 AM  Brain Innate

jonah said at April 22, 2011 12:36 PM:

If this could be a target for drugs, a lot of dudes could probably get laid.

Lono said at April 25, 2011 9:00 AM:

I rarely ever get embarrassed. I would imagine that most regulars here would concur that I have no shame.

My wife - on the other hand - gets embarrassed rather easily. It is interesting for me to view - because it seems so absurd to me to worry about what someone else thinks about my behavior.

I only limit my behavior publicly to avoid being incarcerated - and when I must play a part and be temporarily Machiavellian to successfully achieve some desired social engineering.

My blunt honesty and thorough transparency has cost me some promotions in certain large public companies - but the positions I would have been promoted to would have required a level of personal and professional dishonesty I would not have been able to tolerate anyways.

There do not seem to be many long term advantages for the individual to have an easily embarrassed phenotype thought the advantages for the group are fairly obvious.

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