Easily-embarrassed people might experience frequent discomfort, but they can rest easy knowing a new study says they’re actually more altruistic than the rest of us.
Matthew Feinberg and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley conducted a series of experiments with hundreds of people and found participants prone to embarrassment are more selfless and cooperative, or what psychologists deem more “prosocial.” In addition, outsiders interpret people’s expressions of embarrassment as a sign that those folks are more likely to cooperate with and trust them.
Since signs of embarrassment signal that you’re sensitive to social rules and concerned about breaking them, the study authors claim in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that embarrassment “can also function in our favor, helping to advertise some of our better, more desirable qualities.”
“Our data are the first to reveal that people who feel and show intense embarrassment are indeed more prosocial,” the researchers concluded, “and that this display triggers prosocial inferences and actions.”
Of course there were limits to the study, and the authors noted the need for more research to determine if, for example, it’s possible to feign embarrassment and therefore benefit from the flattering assumptions onlookers tend to make about easily embarrassed people.