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Why It's Good If You're Easily Embarrassed

SUNDAY, Oct. 2 (HealthDay News) -- People who are easily embarrassed are more trustworthy, more generous and more likely to be monogamous, according to a new study.

"Moderate levels of embarrassment are signs of virtue," the study's lead author, Matthew Feinberg, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a university news release. "Our data suggests embarrassment is a good thing, not something you should fight."

The findings apply to moderate levels of embarrassment -- not feelings of shame or extreme social anxiety, the authors pointed out.

The study, published online Sept. 19 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, involved a series of experiments.

In one experiment, the researchers videotaped 60 college students as they told stories about an embarrassing moment, such as mistaking an overweight woman for a pregnant one. The speakers were rated on how embarrassed they felt.

Then the students played a game used in economics research to measure selflessness, and the researchers found the participants who were most embarrassed showed the most generosity.

In another experiment, the researchers also asked 38 people found on Craigslist how often they felt embarrassed and measured their cooperativeness and generosity after they played the same game the students played.

Each time, embarrassment suggested a tendency to be pro-social, Feinberg said. The findings may be helpful for people seeking reliable partners in business and romance, the researchers said.

"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 the study's co-author, Robb Willer, UC Berkeley social psychologist, in the news release.

The authors noted more research is needed to explore whether or not overly confident people aren't trustworthy.

More information

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center provides more information on the psychology of embarrassment.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: University of California, Berkeley, news release, Sept. 28, 2011

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