Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton February 21, 2014

Does a humorous element characterize embarrassment?

Glenn E. Weisfeld and Miriam B. Weisfeld
From the journal HUMOR


Evidence is mixed on the question of the distinctiveness of embarrassment as a negative self-conscious emotion. Embarrassment is particularly likely to feature blushing, smiling and laughter, and to follow some minor and surprising social gaffe. Perhaps embarrassment can be distinguished from similar emotions by these observable expressive elements, rather than just in terms of contextual factors. Although slumped posture and averted gaze accompany all the negative self-conscious emotions, blushing may sometimes accompany embarrassment in order to accentuate one's submission disposition when the offense is minor and unusual. The frequent and distinctive smiles and laughter of embarrassment may reflect a truly humorous aspect to the embarrassing incident, and not just anxiety. As with other instances of humor, people are amused by embarrassing situations when the victim commits some unexpected, minor faux pas. These amusing, informative scenarios are a staple of conversation, and protect those present against committing a similar offense in the future. Thus, perhaps true embarrassment might be interpreted as a blend of two universal emotions, humor appreciation and shame, and defined operationally as exhibiting submission displays and smiling or laughter in response to having committed some unusual peccadillo.

Published Online: 2014-2-21
Published in Print: 2014-2-1

©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston