October 10, 2011
More Easily Embarrassed More Trusted

Beware of people who only feign embarrassment.

BERKELEY — If tripping in public or mistaking an overweight woman for a mother-to-be leaves you red-faced, don’t feel bad. A new study from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that people who are easily embarrassed are also more trustworthy, and more generous.

In short, embarrassment can be a good thing.

This makes sense: People with a greater fear of embarrassment will refrain from doing things that less easily embarrassed people won't hesitate to do. The fear of embarrassment can be counted on to constrain some forms of anti-social behavior. So a person more prone to embarrassment engages in fewer acts that would make others morally outraged.

The more easily embarrassed both behaved more altruistically and were perceived as more trustworthy.

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.”

What I want to know: When it becomes possible to genetically engineer offspring for greater or lesser tendency toward embarrassment will parents choose to make their kids more or less easily embarrassed than they are? The answer to that question will probably determine the level of trust in future human societies and the level of corruption as well.

What I also want to know: How highly correlated are shyness and the tendency toward embarrassment?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 October 10 05:53 AM  Brain Innate


Comments
PacRim Jim said at October 10, 2011 12:04 PM:

Reminds me of the old Hollywood proverb:
Sincerity is the most important thing in the movie business. And once you learn to fake that, you've got it made.

Greg F said at October 11, 2011 11:18 AM:
When it becomes possible to genetically engineer offspring for greater or lesser tendency toward embarrassment will parents choose to make their kids more or less easily embarrassed than they are?

Depends on whether they want their offspring to be politicians or not.

Mike said at October 11, 2011 11:24 AM:

Mark Twain: Man is the only animal that blushes....or needs to.

BarryD said at October 11, 2011 11:26 AM:

My boy, you may take it from me, That of all the afflictions accurst With which a man's saddled And hampered and addled, A diffident nature's the worst. Though clever as clever can be-- A Crichton of early romance-- You must stir it and stump it, And blow your own trumpet, Or, trust me, you haven't a chance.

Gilbert and Sullivan

TomD said at October 12, 2011 8:49 AM:

Eh? What happened to my comment?

TomD said at October 12, 2011 7:03 PM:

Uh, well, OK then.

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