Embarrassment and Generosity

Take heart if you are easily embarrassed. According to new research, people who are easily embarrassed are also more trustworthy and generous.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley conducted a series of experiments using video testimonials, economic trust games and surveys to gauge the relationship between embarrassment and pro-sociality.

In one experiment, 60 college students were videotaped recounting embarrassing moments such as public flatulence or making incorrect assumptions based on appearances (i.e. mistaking an overweight woman for being pregnant). Research assistants coded each testimonial based on the level of embarrassment the study participants showed. They also participated in an economic game to measure altruism. For example, they were each given 10 raffle tickets and asked to keep shares of the tickets and give the rest to a partner. The researchers found that those who showed greater levels of embarrassment tended to give away more of their raffle tickets, indicating greater generosity. In each experiment, the results showed that embarrassment signals people’s tendency to be pro-social.

Interestingly, these findings aren’t only useful if you’re seeking cooperative and reliable team members and business partners; they also serve as helpful dating advice. Study subjects who were more easily embarrassed reported higher levels of monogamy.

The authors of the study did not delve into the question of whether these results mean that overly confident people aren’t trustworthy, but they say they may look into that in the future.