Embarrassment or awkwardness is an emotional state that is associated with mild to severe levels of discomfort, and which is usually experienced when someone has a socially unacceptable or frowned-upon act or condition that was witnessed by or revealed to others.

Usually some perception of loss of honor or dignity (or other high-value ideals) is involved, but the embarrassment level and the type depends on the situation. Embarrassment is similar to shame in some sense, except that shame may be experienced for an act known only to oneself. Also, embarrassment usually carries the connotation of being caused by an act that is merely socially unacceptable, rather than morally wrong.


Embarrassment can be personal, caused by unwanted attention to private matters or personal flaws or mishaps or shyness. Some causes of embarrassment stem from personal actions, such as being caught in a lie or in making a mistake. In many cultures, being seen nude or inappropriately dressed is a particularly stressful form of embarrassment (see modesty). Personal embarrassment can also stem from the actions of others who place the embarrassed person in a socially awkward situation—such as a parent showing one's baby pictures to friends, having someone make a derogatory comment about one's appearance or behavior, discovering one is the victim of gossip, being rejected by another person (see also humiliation), being made the focus of attention (e.g., birthday celebrants, newlyweds), or even witnessing someone else's embarrassment.

Personal embarrassment is usually accompanied by some combination of blushing, sweating, nervousness, stammering, and fidgeting. Sometimes the embarrassed person tries to mask embarrassment with smiles or nervous laughter, especially in etiquette situations. Such a response is more common in certain cultures, which may lead to misunderstanding. There may also be feelings of anger depending on the perceived seriousness of the situation, especially if the individual thinks another person is intentionally causing the embarrassment. There is a range of responses, with the most minor being a perception of the embarrassing act as inconsequential or even humorous, to intense apprehension or fear.

The idea that embarrassment serves an apology or appeasement function originated with Goffman who argued the embarrassed individual "demonstrates that he/she is at least disturbed by the fact and may prove worthy at another time".[1] Semin and Manstead demonstrated social functions of embarrassment whereby the perpetrator of knocking over a sales display (the "bad act") was deemed more likable by others if he/she appeared embarrassed than if he/she appeared unconcerned – regardless of restitution behaviour (rebuilding the display).[2] The capacity to experience embarrassment can also be seen as functional for the group or culture. It has been demonstrated that those who are not prone to embarrassment are more likely to engage in antisocial behaviour – for example, adolescent boys who displayed more embarrassment were found less likely to engage in aggressive/delinquent behaviours. Similarly, embarrassment exhibited by boys more likely to engage in aggressive/delinquent behaviour was less than one-third of that exhibited by non-aggressive boys.[3] Thus proneness to embarrassment (i.e., a concern for how one is evaluated by others) can act as a brake on behaviour that would be dysfunctional for a group or culture.

Professional embarrassment

Embarrassment can also be professional or official, especially after statements expressing confidence in a stated course of action, or willful disregard for evidence. Embarrassment increases greatly in instances involving official duties or workplace facilities, large amounts of money or materials, or loss of human life. Examples of causes include a government's failed public policy, exposure of corrupt practices or unethical behaviour, a celebrity whose personal habits receive public scrutiny or face legal action, or officials caught in serious personally embarrassing situations. Even small errors or miscalculations can lead to significantly greater official embarrassment if it is discovered that there was willful disregard for evidence or directives involved (e.g., see Space Shuttle Challenger).

Not all official failures result in official embarrassment, even if the circumstances lead to some slight personal embarrassment for the people involved. For example, losing a close political election might cause some personal embarrassment for the candidate but generally would be considered an honorable loss in the profession and thus not necessarily lead to professional embarrassment. Similarly, a scientist might be personally disappointed and embarrassed if one of his hypotheses was proven wrong, but would not normally suffer professional embarrassment as a result. By contrast, exposure of falsified data supporting a scientific claim (e.g., see Hwang Woo-Suk) would likely lead to professional embarrassment in the scientific community. Professional or official embarrassment is often accompanied by public expressions of anger, denial of involvement, or attempts to minimize the consequences. Sometimes the embarrassed entity issues press statements, removes or distance themselves from sub-level employees, attempts to carry on as if nothing happened, suffers income loss, emigrates, or vanishes from public view.

Vicarious embarrassment

Vicarious embarrassment is an embarrassed feeling from observing the embarrassing actions of another person.[4] People who rate themselves as more empathic are more likely to experience vicarious embarrassment.[5] The effect is present whether or not the observed party is aware of the embarrassing nature of their actions, although awareness generally increases the strength of the felt vicarious embarrassment, as does an accidental (as opposed to intentional) action.[6]

Types in social psychology

Antoine Watteau 014
An embarrassing proposal by Antoine Watteau

One typology of embarrassment is described by Sharkey and Stafford. There are six types of embarrassment:[7]

  1. Privacy violations – for example where a part of the body is accidentally exposed, or there is an invasion of space, property, or information that may be warranted to privacy,
  2. Lack of knowledge and skill – for example forgetfulness, or experiencing failure while performing a relatively easy task
  3. Criticism and rejection – is another cause of embarrassment, as well as being made the center of attention positively or negatively
  4. Awkward acts – refer to social situations, for example inappropriate conversations, clumsiness or ungraceful actions (such as an emotional outbreak like speaking out unintentionally) that can trigger embarrassment
  5. Appropriate image – refers to more of a personal reflection of embarrassment, like body image, clothing apparel, and personal possessions (for example owning an older mobile phone compared to the latest model)
  6. Environment – can also have the effect of provoking embarrassment, as when an individual in a movie theatre with his or her parents, other family, co-workers, or mixed-company peers is made uncomfortable by an unexpected occurrence of nudity in the film that the group is watching.

Another typology, by Cupach and Metts, discusses the dimensions of intended-unintended and appropriate-inappropriate behavior, and four basic types of embarrassing circumstances:

  1. Faux pas (socially awkward acts)
  2. Accidents
  3. Mistakes
  4. Failure to perform a duty or moral obligation.

Based on these types, Cupach and Metts classify two basic embarrassment situations: the actor responsible and the observer responsible. Actor responsible situations are embarrassing when a person executes an act that is either inappropriate to a point of proficiency matching social norms and expectations, inconsistent with role expectations, or is out-of-sync with a social identity. The observer responsible categories are embarrassing when an individual becomes the focus of attention through:

  • Recognition, praise, criticism, correction, or teasing
  • Becomes initialized through being tripped or bumped, which is then associated with someone acting inappropriately
  • Has information revealed publicly to another individual or peer group


The first known written occurrence of embarrass in English was in 1664 by Samuel Pepys in his diary. The word derives from the French word embarrasser, "to block" or "obstruct",[8] whose first recorded usage was by Michel de Montaigne in 1580. The French word was derived from the Spanish embarazar, whose first recorded usage was in 1460 in Cancionero de Stúñiga (Songbook of Stúñiga) by Álvaro de Luna.[9] The Spanish word comes from the Portuguese embaraçar, which is a combination of the prefix em- (from Latin im- for "in-") with baraço or baraça, "a noose" or "rope".[10] Baraça originated before the Romans began their conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in 218 BC.[9] Thus, baraça could be related to the Celtic word barr, "tuft". (Celtic people actually settled much of Spain and Portugal beginning in the 8th century BC)[11] However, it certainly is not directly derived from it, as the substitution of r for rr in Ibero-Romantic languages was not a known occurrence.

The Spanish word may come from the Italian imbarazzare, from imbarazzo, "obstacle" or "obstruction". That word came from imbarrare, "to block" or "bar", which is a combination of in-, "in" with barra, "bar" (from the Vulgar Latin barra, which is of unknown origin).[9] The problem with this theory is that the first known usage of the word in Italian was by Bernardo Davanzati (1529–1606), long after the word had entered Spanish.[12]

See also



  1. ^ Goffman 1067.
  2. ^ Semin & Manstead 1982.
  3. ^ Ketlner et al 1995.
  4. ^ Ahmet Uysal, Gülçin Akbas, Elif Helvacı, and Irem Metin, Validation and correlates of the vicarious embarrassment scale, Personality and Individual Differences 60 (2014), pp. 48–53
  5. ^ EurekAlert!, Your flaws are my pain, 13 April 2011
  6. ^ Sören Krach, Jan Christopher Cohrs, Nicole Cruz de Echeverría Loebell, Tilo Kircher, Jens Sommer, Andreas Jansen, and Frieder Michel Paulus, Your Flaws Are My Pain: Linking Empathy To Vicarious Embarrassment, PLoS ONE, 13 April 2011
  7. ^ Withers, Lesley; Sherblom, John. "Embarrassment: The Communication of an Awkward Actor Anticipating a Negative Evaluation". Human Communication. 11 (2): 237–254.
  8. ^ embarrass. The Oxford English Dictionary. 1989. Retrieved February 15, 2006.
  9. ^ a b c Joan Corominas and José Pacual, "embarazar," Diccionario crítico etimológico castellano e hispánico, (Gredos, 1980) Vol. II, p. 555-556.
  10. ^ embarrass. Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. 2002. Retrieved February 15, 2006.
  11. ^ Iberian. Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on August 30, 2006. Retrieved February 15, 2006.
  12. ^ embarrass. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 2000. Archived from the original on April 11, 2001. Retrieved February 15, 2006.

General citations

  • Tangney, JP; Miller Flicker Barlow (1996). "Are shame, guilt, and embarrassment distinct emotions?". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

External links


Aachenosaurus is a dubious genus of prehistoric plant. It was named based solely on fossilized fragments of material that were originally thought to be jaw fragments from a duck-billed dinosaur (a hadrosaur). However, the fossils turned out to be petrified wood, to the great embarrassment of the discoverer. The fossil's name means "Aachen lizard", named for the Aachenian deposits of Moresnet (which was a neutral territory between Belgium and Germany), where the fossils were found.A synonym of Aachenosaurus is Aachenoxylon, which was coined by Dr Maurice Hovelacque in 1889/1890.


Affection or fondness is a "disposition or state of mind or body" that is often associated with a feeling or type of love. It has given rise to a number of branches of philosophy and psychology concerning emotion, disease, influence, and state of being. "Affection" is popularly used to denote a feeling or type of love, amounting to more than goodwill or friendship. Writers on ethics generally use the word to refer to distinct states of feeling, both lasting and spasmodic. Some contrast it with passion as being free from the distinctively sensual element.Even a very simple demonstration of affection can have a broad variety of emotional reactions, from embarrassment to disgust to pleasure and annoyance. It also has a different physical effect on the giver and the receiver.

Bankers Football Club

The Bankers Football Club was an Australian rules football club, based in Adelaide, that played in the South Australian Football Association of 1877.

The club lost every one of the 15 matches it contested in 1877, and scored just 4 goals while conceding 31.

At the end of the 1877 season ‘Marlborough’, writing in The Advertiser, strongly implied that the Bankers club was something of an embarrassment, and expressed the hope “that no efforts will be made to establish it next season”. The writer got his wish as, shortly afterwards, Bankers disbanded.


Blushing is the reddening of a person's face due to psychological reasons. It is normally involuntary and triggered by emotional stress tying candor, such as that associated with passion, embarrassment, shyness, anger, or romantic stimulation.

Severe blushing is common in people who suffer social anxiety in which the person experiences extreme and persistent anxiety in social and performance situation.

Criterion of embarrassment

The criterion of embarrassment is a type of critical analysis in which an account likely to be embarrassing to its author is presumed to be true as the author would have no reason to invent an account which might embarrass him or her. Certain Biblical scholars have used this as a metric for assessing whether the New Testament's accounts of Jesus' actions and words are historically probable.The criterion of embarrassment is one point listed in the Criteria of Authenticity used by academics, the others being the criterion of dissimilarity, criterion of language and environment, criterion of coherence, and the criterion of multiple attestation.

Embarrassment (song)

"Embarrassment" is a song recorded by ska/pop band Madness, predominantly written by Lee Thompson, but partially credited to Mike Barson. The band first began performing the song at live shows in April 1980, and it was featured on their second studio album, Absolutely.

The song was released as a single on November 14, 1980, and spent 12 weeks in the UK singles chart and reached a high of number 4. The song was remixed for issue as a single, which is different from the album version, although they both have the same running time.


A facepalm is the physical gesture of placing one's hand across one's face or lowering one's face into one's hand or hands, covering or closing one's eyes. The gesture is often exaggerated by giving the motion more force and making a slapping noise when the hand comes in contact with the face. The gesture is found in many cultures as a display of frustration, disappointment, exasperation, embarrassment, horror, shock, surprise, exhaustion, sarcasm, or incredulous disbelief.

Flushing (physiology)

Flushing is to become markedly red in the face and often other areas of the skin, from various physiological conditions. Flushing is generally distinguished, despite a close physiological relation between them, from blushing, which is milder, generally restricted to the face, cheeks or ears, and generally assumed to reflect emotional stress, such as embarrassment, anger, or romantic stimulation. Flushing is also a cardinal symptom of carcinoid syndrome—the syndrome that results from hormones (often serotonin or histamine) being secreted into systemic circulation.

Haya (Islam)

Haya (Arabic: حياء‎, Urdu: حيا‎, transl. bashfulness, decency, diffidence, honor, humility, inhibition, modesty, self-respect, shame, shyness, timidity) is an Arabic word that means "natural or inherent, shyness and a sense of modesty". In Islamic terminology, it is mainly used in the context of modesty. The word itself is derived from the word Hayat, which means "life". The original meaning of Haya refers to "a bad or uneasy feeling accompanied by embarrassment". Haya encourages Muslims to avoid anything considered to be distasteful or abominable. Haya plays an important role in Islam, as it is one of the most important parts of Iman. The antonym of Haya in Arabic is badha'a (بذاءة, immodesty) or fahisha (فاحشة, lewdness or obscenity).


Humiliation is the abasement of pride, which creates mortification or leads to a state of being humbled or reduced to lowliness or submission. It is an emotion felt by a person whose social status, either by force or willingly, has just decreased. It can be brought about through intimidation, physical or mental mistreatment or trickery, or by embarrassment if a person is revealed to have committed a socially or legally unacceptable act. Whereas humility can be sought alone as a means to de-emphasize the ego, humiliation must involve other person(s), though not necessarily directly or willingly.

Humiliation is currently an active research topic, and is now seen as an important – and complex – core dynamic in human relationships, having implications at intrapersonal, interpersonal, institutional and international levels.

Liberia at the 1988 Summer Olympics

Liberia competed at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea. They had a very poor showing, despite their magnificent send-off. Two members of the official delegation were assaulted upon their return because of the perceived embarrassment suffered by the nation at their expense.


Modesty, sometimes known as demureness, is a mode of dress and deportment which intends to avoid the encouraging of sexual attraction in others. The word "modesty" comes from the Latin word modestus which means "keeping within measure". Standards of modesty are culturally and context dependent and vary widely. In this use, it may be considered inappropriate or immodest to reveal certain parts of the body. In some societies, modesty may involve women covering their bodies completely and not talking to men who are not immediate family members; in others, a fairly revealing but one-piece bathing costume is considered modest when other women wear bikinis. In some countries, exposure of the body in breach of community standards of modesty is also considered to be public indecency, and public nudity is generally illegal in most of the world and regarded as indecent exposure. For example, Stephen Gough a lone man attempting to walk naked from south to north Britain was repeatedly imprisoned. However, nudity is at times tolerated in some societies; for example by Digambara monks in India, who renounce clothing for ascetic reasons, and during a World Naked Bike RideIn semi-public contexts standards of modesty vary. Nudity may be acceptable in public single-sex changing rooms at swimming baths, for example, or for mass medical examination of men for military service. In private, standards again depend upon the circumstances. A person who would never disrobe in the presence of a physician of the opposite sex in a social context might unquestioningly do so for a medical examination; others might allow examination, but only by a person of the same sex.

Practical joke

A practical joke, or prank, is a mischievous trick played on someone, generally causing the victim to experience embarrassment, perplexity, confusion, or discomfort. A person who performs a practical joke is called a "practical joker". Other terms for practical jokes include gag, jape, or shenanigan.

Practical jokes differ from confidence tricks or hoaxes in that the victim finds out, or is let in on the joke, rather than being talked into handing over money or other valuables. Practical jokes are generally lighthearted and without lasting impact; they aim to make the victim feel humbled or foolish, but not victimized or humiliated. Thus most practical jokes are affectionate gestures of humour and designed to encourage laughter. However, practical jokes performed with cruelty can constitute bullying, whose intent is to harass or exclude rather than reinforce social bonds through ritual humbling.Some countries in Western culture traditionally emphasize the carrying out of practical jokes on April Fools' Day.


Shame is an unpleasant self-conscious emotion typically associated with a negative evaluation of the self, withdrawal motivations, and feelings of distress, exposure, mistrust, powerlessness, and worthlessness.


A smile is formed primarily by flexing the muscles at the sides of the mouth. Some smiles include a contraction of the muscles at the corner of the eyes, an action known as a Duchenne smile.

Among humans, smiling is an expression denoting pleasure, sociability, happiness, joy or amusement. It is distinct from a similar but usually involuntary expression of anxiety known as a grimace. Although cross-cultural studies have shown that smiling is a means of communication throughout the world, there are large differences among different cultures, religions and societies, with some using smiles to convey confusion or embarrassment.

The Embarrassment

The Embarrassment was an American quartet formed in 1979 in Wichita, Kansas, that made several recordings before breaking up in 1983. The band consisted of guitarist Bill Goffrier, lead singer and organist John Nichols, bassist Ron Klaus and drummer Brent Giessmann.

The Embarrassment of Riches

The Embarrassment of Riches: an interpretation of Dutch culture in the Golden Age is a book by the historian Simon Schama. It was published in 1987. The book sold quite well and led to an immediate second printing only a few months after its release.

The Misery Index (TV series)

The Misery Index is an upcoming television series developed for TBS. The program, which is based on the card game "Shit Happens", will be hosted by Jameela Jamil and star the four members of The Tenderloins comedy troupe, who star in truTV's Impractical Jokers.Andy Breckman, who created and wrote the TV shows Monk and The Good Cop, created the card game "Shit Happens" for his company Uncle Andy Toys. He developed the TV version with Ben & Dan Newmark of Grandma's House Entertainment.

The first season will consist of ten half-hour episodes. The show features two competing teams, each composed of a non-celebrity contestant and two members of the Tenderloins, who will "attempt to determine the ranking of hilarious and miserable real-life events—from getting fired to accidentally sexting your grandfather—on a scale of 1–100." Michael Bloom, a senior vice president for TBS, said about the show's premise: "Andy Breckman and the Newmarks have hilariously gamified embarrassment, humiliation, and total misery."Executive producers for the series are Breckman, the Newmark brothers, Adam Bold of Grandma's House Entertainment, Howard Klein of 3 Arts Entertainment, and showrunner Rob Anderson.On July 18, 2019, it was announced that the series will premiere on October 22, 2019.

Vicarious embarrassment

Vicarious embarrassment (also known as secondhand, empathetic, or third party embarrassment) is the feeling of embarrassment from observing the embarrassing actions of another person. Unlike general embarrassment, vicarious embarrassment is not caused by participating in an embarrassing event, but instead it's caused by witnessing (verbally and/or visually) another person experience an embarrassing event. These emotions can be perceived as pro-social, and some say they can be seen as motives for following socially and culturally acceptable behavior.Vicarious embarrassment (German: Fremdscham) is often seen as an opposite to schadenfreude, which is the feeling of pleasure or satisfaction at misfortune, humiliation or embarrassment of another person.Vicarious embarrassment is different from an emotional contagion, which is when a person unconsciously mimics the emotions that others are experiencing. An emotional contagion is experienced by both people making it a shared emotion. Vicarious embarrassment often occurs even when the individual experiencing the embarrassing event might not be aware of the implications. For an act to be considered an emotional contagion, more than one person must be affected by the emotion, but in vicarious emotions, it is only necessary that the observer experience the emotion. Furthermore, vicarious embarrassment can be experienced even when the observer is completely isolated.Vicarious embarrassment, like other vicarious emotions, presents symptoms that reflect the original emotion. However, unlike shared emotions, the experience of embarrassment for the observer is dependent on how they normally experience embarrassment. Individuals who experience social anxiety in their own life may experience the familiar symptoms of blushing, excess sweating, trembling, palpitations, and nausea. Other, less severe symptoms may include cringing, looking away, or general discomfort.

World views
Activists and
Notable suicides
Related topics


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.