Embarrassment: An Overview

Embarrassment is a universal emotion experienced by both humans and animals alike. It is characterized by feelings of shame, self-consciousness, and awkwardness, and is commonly associated with situations involving social evaluation and/or rejection (Craske, 2003). This paper will provide an overview of embarrassment, including its definition, associated physiological and psychological responses, and potential strategies for managing embarrassment.


Embarrassment is typically described as an emotion that is associated with social situations and is triggered by the fear of being judged or rejected (Hess & Blairy, 2001). It is a feeling of discomfort caused by one’s own actions, or the actions of another, that is often accompanied by a sense of shame or inadequacy (Lewis et al., 2008). Embarrassment can also be triggered by a perceived violation of social norms (Craske, 2003).

Physiological and Psychological Responses

When experiencing embarrassment, an individual may display a range of physiological and psychological responses. These can include blushing, sweating, and an increase in heart rate (Keltner & Buswell, 1997). In addition, embarrassment can lead to feelings of anxiety, humiliation, and social discomfort (Hess & Blairy, 2001). It can also lead to cognitive difficulty, decreased self-esteem, and a sense of being exposed and vulnerable (Lewis et al., 2008).

Managing Embarrassment

Embarrassment can be a difficult emotion to manage, but there are a few strategies that can be employed. First, focusing on the positive aspects of the situation can help to reduce the feeling of embarrassment (Craske, 2003). For example, if an individual is embarrassed because they made a mistake in a speech, they could focus on what went well rather than what went wrong. Additionally, it can be beneficial to recognize and accept one’s own emotions, as this can help to reduce feelings of embarrassment (Hess & Blairy, 2001). Finally, it is important to remember that embarrassment is a normal and natural emotion, and that everyone experiences it at some point in their lives (Lewis et al., 2008).


In conclusion, embarrassment is a universal emotion that is characterized by feelings of shame, self-consciousness, and awkwardness. It is associated with a range of physiological and psychological responses, and can be difficult to manage. However, there are a few strategies that can be employed to help reduce the feeling of embarrassment, such as focusing on the positive aspects of the situation and accepting one’s own emotions.


Craske, M. G. (2003). Embarrassment. In D. Sander & K. R. Scherer (Eds.), The Oxford companion to emotion and the affective sciences (pp. 180-181). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hess, U., & Blairy, S. (2001). Facial mimicry and emotional experience: A case of cognitive dissonance. Cognition & Emotion, 15(3), 3-15.

Keltner, D., & Buswell, B. N. (1997). Embarrassment: Its distinct form and appeasement functions. Psychological Bulletin, 122(3), 250-270.

Lewis, M., Sullivan, M. W., Stanger, C., & Weiss, M. (2008). Social anxiety and embarrassment: Developmental changes in the understanding of complex emotions. Social Development, 17(2), 498-516.

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