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Embarrassment: A Form of Social Pain

This enigmatic emotion likely evolved to smooth social interactions, but it can have less desirable consequences in the modern world

Christine Harris

Figure 4. An embarrassed person's smileClick to Enlarge Image

A slightly tortured smile, an averted gaze, the telltale blush—we all recognize the signs of embarrassment. Indeed, it is a nearly universal human emotion than manifests itself in similar ways across cultures. But where did it come from and what are its consequences? The author explains that this enigmatic emotion likely evolved to regulate social behaviors in a way that aids the welfare of the embarrassed. Yet despite embarrassment's usefulness in some situations, it can also have serious consequences when people forgo healthcare or fail to help others in order to avoid potentially embarrassing situations.

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