Hope for the Awkward: Easily Embarrassed People Are Better At Relationships

Guess what? Awkward, easily embarrassed people have been proven to be better at relationships! Isn't science neat?

Hope for the Awkward: Easily Embarrassed People Are Better At Relationships

Guess what? Awkward, easily embarrassed people have been proven to be better at relationships! Isn’t science neat?

-Lucia Peters


Are you awkward? No, no, don’t shuffle your feet; there’s no shame in awkwardness. I myself embraced the awkward as a way of life nany years ago, and trust me, it’s so much more fun reveling in, rather than hiding, your awkwardness.

Even better, there’s hope for all us awkward people in the realm of romance: Apparently, we’re better at relationships than our non-awkward counterparts! Hoorah! Isn’t science neat?

According to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, men and women who are easily embarrassed are not only more trustworthy and more generous, but also report higher levels of monogamy. Said UC Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer, a coauthor of the study, “Embarrassment is one emotional signature of a person to whom you can entrust valuable resources. It’s part of the social glue that fosters trust and cooperation in everyday life.” Added Matthew Feinberg, a doctoral student in psychology at UC Berkeley and the lead author of the paper, “Moderate levels of embarrassment are signs of virtue”– and are thus excellent for relationships.

How? Well, it all comes down to trust. Let’s take a look at a couple of experiments, shall we? In the first experiment Feinberg, Willer, and co. conducted, 60 college students were videotaped telling stories of their most embarrassing moments. Research assistants then coded each testimonial based on the level of embarrassment shown by its subject. In the second experiment, college students played something called “The Dictator Game,” an exercise used in economics research to measure altruism. Each student was given 10 raffle tickets and asked to keep some of them and give the rest to a partner. The students who showed more embarrassment tended to give away more of their tickets—hence, the awkward-people-are-more-generous conclusion.

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A third experiment surveyed 38 Americans found through the great equalizer that is Craigslist on how frequently they felt embarrassed. Several other exercises, like the aforementioned Dictator Game, were also used to measure them for cooperativeness and generosity. And finally, a fourth experiment involved subjects watching a trained actor being informed that he had scored perfectly on a test. The actor responded alternately with embarrassment or pride, after which the subjects played games with the actor that measured their trust in him based on his response to his test score.

Each time, the results of the experiments illustrated the pro-social nature of embarrassment signals. According to Feinberg, “You want to affiliate with [people who show embarrassment] more. You feel comfortable trusting them.” To err, after all, is human, and everyone likes an approachable human being– which goes doubly for romantic relationships. Note, though, that this phenomenon applies only to moderate embarrassment, not crippling social awkwardness. Oddly enough, this type of embarrassment, which reads as “shame,” is “associated in the psychology literature with such moral transgressions as being caught cheating.” Ah well—I guess us awkward folk still have to work on some things!

Lucia Peters is BettyConfidential’s associate editor. She’s also a high-functioning awkward person.

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