How people cope with embarrassment through material products.
Always wondered why some people just love moisturizing cream and those enormous sunglasses? A new study shows it could be embarrassment. People that are temporarily suffering from this unpleasant feeling are more likely to use a product that could help to ‘save their face’.
Earlier studies already showed that people that just experienced or recalled an embarrassing situation- that is a public action that observers could consider as foolish or inappropriate – often feel motivated to avoid social contact or to repair their image. Sunglasses and restorative cosmetics could help with that. A team of researchers now investigated the actual effectiveness of these coping strategies.
They conducted various experiments in which participants had to describe either an embarrassing or a non-embarrassing situation. Then the research team assessed the participant’s emotions and offered them a range of products and activities. Subjects had to choose between products that helped to hide the face or body or nothing at all and between social or individual activities.
The experiments seemed successful. Participants reported feeling more embarrassed in the embarrassment-condition and they were more likely to avoid social contact. They also were attracted significantly more to products that literally hide or repair the face, like sunglasses and moisturizing cream. Products like scarfs and socks, hiding the body, were not more popular among embarrassed subjects.
Hiding the face and repairing the face weren’t equally effective in these experiments. Face restoring products seemed to relieve feelings of embarrassment and restore willingness to interact with others. Simply hiding the face didn’t seem to help with this. The researchers are glad with this first evidence of consequences of these so called ‘symbolic coping strategies’.
It makes you wonder what we unconscioussly might be using all those other products for.
Photo: Flickr, CourtneyCamody
Dong P, Huang XI, & Wyer RS Jr (2013). The illusion of saving face: how people symbolically cope with embarrassment. Psychological science, 24 (10), 2005-12 PMID: 23938275
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