Embarrassment is a genuine human emotion that we experience while being publicly exposed in unfavorable situations. The embarrassment we feel informs us how we perform according to prevalent norms and moral values and helps to regulate the impression we make on others. One cornerstone of embarrassment is the capacity to take another’s perspective and reflect on the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of others. On the neural systems level, these processes of perspective taking are linked to neural activation in the medial prefrontal cortex and precuneus. In addition, the mishap and the expected negative evaluation induce affective arousal and activity in the anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex. Both networks contribute to the experience of embarrassment and it is their orchestrated activity in the (para-) limbic system that accounts for this complex emotional phenomenon. From a conceptual point of view embarrassment thus presupposes the presence of others. This witnessing audience however also reacts to the mishaps of others and embarrassment may also be experienced vicariously. Here, processes of perspective taking also play an important role, while bystanders embody threats to another’s social integrity. Such interpersonal emotional phenomena gain particular relevance in the context of psychiatric disorders. Specifically, autism spectrum disorders and social anxiety disorders have core symptoms in the social domain that manifest in social interactions causing disturbances in social behavior and reduced well-being of affected individuals.
Original languageGerman
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 04.04.2017

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