What makes us feel embarrassed, like biologically?

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What makes us feel embarrassed, like biologically?

In: Biology
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This is a really complicated question without a lot of good answers. What we do know is that embarrassment is mainly mediated by a brain structure called the ‘pregenual anterior cingulate cortex’, which is a small part of a brain system called the limbic system, which deals with processing emotions and factoring them into motivation and behavior. Essentially what will happen is your brain will check all of its current inputs (vision, touch, smell, etc.) against your memories. Based on these memories your brain will decide how your behavior should be modulated and the appropriate emotion to make that happen. Embarrassment is essentially saying ‘hey, in your past this situation has been detrimental to our or other people’s social standing or relationships.’ Your cingulate cortex would then take that information and feed it to (via other structures) your prefrontal cortex (which is where decisions will be made), and your parasympathetic/sympathetic nervous systems (which are responsible for the fight/flight vs. rest/digest states of your body). This essentially primes you to make a decision based on this emotional response, and prepares your body to carry out that decision.

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert here, just an undergraduate neuroscience major, and this is a mega oversimplification about something we really don’t understand perfectly. If anyone has any additions or corrections please go ahead.

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can’t give you a neurological or genetic-specific answer, but emotions like embarrassment evolved because we are highly social and cognitive creatures, and even other social animals, like our primate cousins, can experience embarrassment. Humans start learning really early through parents and other peers and mold emotions like embarrassment based on the feedback they receive (and genetics obviously play a big part in which knobs get turned the easiest, and features like attractiveness and intelligence play a part in how others give you feedback). Getting a good read on your kin and neighbors was and is a huge driving force in our evolution, so emotions like embarrassment can get very complex and confusing in us.

In this situation, the biological reason isn’t very useful. Like love, knowing how it works at the cellular level doesn’t help you acquire it or use it. A better understanding for shame, I think, is a psychological one. This concept comes from Jordan Peterson: “Humans are conditioned by culture to avoid shame. When you experience shame by your own behaviors or thoughts, what that means is there’s an ideal inside of you that’s trying to manifest itself. You wouldn’t feel shame if you weren’t comparing your current self to this ideal self (a better version of you or your actions). You feel shame b/c you’re not living up to your own internal standards. Shame is a reminder to ask yourself: what is the ideal version of myself that I need to be?”

Humans are pack animals. If you think about how our brains evolved, a lot of our base instincts and reactions (including emotional reactions) to stimuli benefit being a successful member of the pack. Embarrassment is the result of behavior that is perceived by the group to be detrimental or wrong or different in some way, which is therefore threatening to the pack, & your good standing within the group, which is threatening to your own survival. That’s bad. The individuals with the ability to perceive these cues, the ones capable of feeling embarrassment, are able to course correct their behavior to fall in line with the pack and ensure their survival as the grow up.

Ever see that person that just CANNOT be embarrassed by anything and acts a little ridiculous, or without regard for social cues? Probably not a lot of close relationships. Just a few thousand years ago, that was a death sentence. Embarrassment kept us alive.

Um. Like, shitting your pants?