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Being Easily Embarrassed Could Make You More Trustworthy

Embarrass Trustworthy

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 09/29/11 02:14 PM ET Updated: 11/29/11 05:12 AM ET

Easily embarrassed? That could make you more trustworthy, a new study suggests.

People who are easily embarrassed -- not to be confused with people with social anxiety or constant feelings of shame -- were shown in several experiments to be more generous, trustworthy and desirable in social situations, according to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"Moderate levels of embarrassment are signs of virtue," study researcher Matthew Feinberg, a doctoral student in psychology at University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement. "Our data suggests embarrassment is a good thing, not something you should fight."

Researchers conducted a series of experiments to gauge how embarrassment can factor into how socially desirable someone is. For the first experiment, researchers recorded 60 college students telling their embarrassing moments, ranging from passing gas to mistakenly thinking someone is homeless or pregnant. Their levels of embarrassment were gauged from these experiences.

The students then took part in the "Dictator Game," where each person is given 10 raffle tickets and is supposed to keep some of the tickets and give the rest to a partner. Researchers found that the people who were the most embarrassed were also the most likely to give away the most raffle tickets. The experiment was repeated among 38 strangers recruited on Craigslist.

Researchers also tested the link between embarrassment and trustworthiness by having participants watch an actor being told that he had received a perfect score on an exam. The actor responded by either being embarrassed, or being proud of the achievement. Then, the participants played games with that actor in order to gauge their trust in the actor, based on whether he acted embarrassed or proud of the test score.

If the actor's reaction was of embarrassment, researchers found that the participants felt more pro-social toward him.

"You want to affiliate with them more," Feinberg said in a statement. "You feel comfortable trusting them."

Physiologically, being embarrassed means that a region in the front part of the brain -- the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex -- is working as it should, PsychCentral reported. Researchers from UC San Francisco came across this finding by comparing brain activation during embarrassing moments in healthy people and people with neurodegenerative disease.

But still, no one likes to feel embarrassed. Here are 10 ways to cope, from HuffPost blogger Therese Borchard.

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