Spring Chenoa Cooper and P. Christopher Palmedo
Embarrassment, according to Fischer and Tangney, is an “aversive state of mortification, abashment, and chagrin that follows public social predicaments.” It is usually related to our perceptions of how others perceive us as well as their judgments of us, and it is associated with a loss of self-esteem when we perceive that others have judged us as inadequate or incompetent. However, even mere exposure or attention publicly placed on someone can elicit embarrassment (think of someone pointing at you and laughing).
Embarrassment is considered a self-conscious emotion. Self-conscious emotions include those that are evoked by self-reflection and self-evaluation: embarrassment, shame, guilt, and pride. Shame, an intense form of embarrassment, also has structural and larger social contexts, while embarrassment is more individually experienced. Self-conscious emotions play an important role in regulating behavior; they assist us in behaving according to social standards and guide us in responding when those rules are broken. While these emotions provide feedback in social situations, they also provide feedback for anticipated outcomes.
Embarrassment can play an important role in health, both in communication and behavior, and occurs through different forms. Primary embarrassment is the first rush of blood to the face and increased heart rate that usually lasts a few moments. Secondary embarrassment is the after-effect that shapes future behavior. Anticipatory embarrassment is the emotion surrounding the potential for embarrassment in an upcoming situation. Solitary embarrassment is the one that no one actually observes.
Three stigmatized areas of health—mental health, healthcare, and sexual health—may be assessed as case studies through which to understand the literature around embarrassment, as both an affect and an emotion.