Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Fear of embarrassment holding you back? Here’s how to overcome it
The study’s results have implications for marketers as well.
Have you ever called someone by the wrong name and they called you out on it, publically? Such an incident can be mortifying. Most of us get over it fairly quickly. But some people have such a fear of embarrassment that it stops them in their tracks. It's called katagelophobia, and it's more common than you might think.
People who suffer from katagelophobia may even feel barred from things like pursuing a love interest, the job they really want, or even from seeing a doctor about a medical condition. So how can someone get over such a fear of embarrassment? According to a study out of Carnegie Mellon University, there’s a certain mental exercise you can do to help alleviate symptoms.
Instead of seeing yourself the protagonist in a given situation, picture yourself as an observer. The study found that when one switched their perspective from that of an actor’s point-of-view to that of an audience member, it decreased both self-awareness and emotional discomfort. Those who suffer from high public self-consciousness (PUBSC) could benefit the most, researchers write. PUBSC sufferers feel as though they’re always in the spotlight, which makes them paranoid and highly susceptible to embarrassment.
Psychologists say that humiliation is a very complex, layered emotion. As a “nested” emotion, it’s interwoven within a fear of the loss of dignity and self-esteem. Its complexity makes it difficult to deal with. The key is altering internal mechanisms, which in this case surrounds perspective.
One thing those who are highly self-conscious can do to avoid public embarrassment is to shift their focus, from seeing themselves as the protagonist to just another observer. Friendship - IMG_3604, by: Nicola. Flickr.
Li Jiang was the lead author of this study. She and her team’s findings were published in the journal, Motivation and Emotion. "Embarrassment prevents us from asking advice about what we should do, for example, about our mounting mortgage bills or unplanned pregnancies,” she told Medical News Daily. "In many cases, if we are to help ourselves, and others, we must overcome our fear of embarrassment in social situations." Jiang and colleagues created an experiment where social embarrassment was a primary feature.
Participants were asked to watch three commercials. In each, the main character suffers some kind of public humiliation. In the first, an attendee farts in the middle of yoga class. In the second, a patient gets identified as waiting for the results of an STD test. In the third, a person farts in front of their love interest.
After viewing the ads, researchers asked participants questions, to find out how they would feel if faced with each situation. They also asked whether each participant identified with the main character or felt more like a casual observer, and to what degree they experienced their point-of-view.
Those who clung to the protagonist’s viewpoint tended to be more self-conscious in social situations, while those who took a spectator’s point-of-view tended to be more comfortable and at ease. From here, Jiang and colleagues say, one can train one’s self to switch their focus from one viewpoint to the other, in order decrease anxiety.
So if you find that you’re nervous in social situations or have a difficult time managing social anxiety, consider the people around you. How are you reading the situation? Are you playing a central role or are you in the background? Consciously becoming aware of when you put yourself in the protagonist’s role and steering your point-of-view back toward the onlooker's, should reduce your anxiety significantly. These findings have implications for marketing as well.
Embarrassment avoidance forms the basis for attempts to motivate consumers to buy a wide variety of products, from laundry detergents that can resolve rings around someone's collar, to dishwasher liquid that can remove unsightly spots on dishes. Our research is relevant to those situations in which marketers want to inoculate consumers against a fear of embarrassment and encourage them to take actions they might otherwise avoid.
For more tips on getting over social awkwardness or anxiety, click here.
A Harvard professor's study discovers the worst year to be alive.
- Harvard professor Michael McCormick argues the worst year to be alive was 536 AD.
- The year was terrible due to cataclysmic eruptions that blocked out the sun and the spread of the plague.
- 536 ushered in the coldest decade in thousands of years and started a century of economic devastation.
The past year has been nothing but the worst in the lives of many people around the globe. A rampaging pandemic, dangerous political instability, weather catastrophes, and a profound change in lifestyle that most have never experienced or imagined.
But was it the worst year ever?
Nope. Not even close. In the eyes of the historian and archaeologist Michael McCormick, the absolute "worst year to be alive" was 536.
Why was 536 so bad? You could certainly argue that 1918, the last year of World War I when the Spanish Flu killed up to 100 million people around the world, was a terrible year by all accounts. 1349 could also be considered on this morbid list as the year when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe, with up to 20 million dead from the plague. Most of the years of World War II could probably lay claim to the "worst year" title as well. But 536 was in a category of its own, argues the historian.
It all began with an eruption...
According to McCormick, Professor of Medieval History at Harvard University, 536 was the precursor year to one of the worst periods of human history. It featured a volcanic eruption early in the year that took place in Iceland, as established by a study of a Swiss glacier carried out by McCormick and the glaciologist Paul Mayewski from the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UM) in Orono.
The ash spewed out by the volcano likely led to a fog that brought an 18-month-long stretch of daytime darkness across Europe, the Middle East, and portions of Asia. As wrote the Byzantine historian Procopius, "For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year." He also recounted that it looked like the sun was always in eclipse.
Cassiodorus, a Roman politician of that time, wrote that the sun had a "bluish" color, the moon had no luster, and "seasons seem to be all jumbled up together." What's even creepier, he described, "We marvel to see no shadows of our bodies at noon."
...that led to famine...
The dark days also brought a period of coldness, with summer temperatures falling by 1.5° C. to 2.5° C. This started the coldest decade in the past 2300 years, reports Science, leading to the devastation of crops and worldwide hunger.
...and the fall of an empire
In 541, the bubonic plague added considerably to the world's misery. Spreading from the Roman port of Pelusium in Egypt, the so-called Plague of Justinian caused the deaths of up to one half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire. This, in turn, sped up its eventual collapse, writes McCormick.
Between the environmental cataclysms, with massive volcanic eruptions also in 540 and 547, and the devastation brought on by the plague, Europe was in for an economic downturn for nearly all of the next century, until 640 when silver mining gave it a boost.
Was that the worst time in history?
Of course, the absolute worst time in history depends on who you were and where you lived.
Native Americans can easily point to 1520, when smallpox, brought over by the Spanish, killed millions of indigenous people. By 1600, up to 90 percent of the population of the Americas (about 55 million people) was wiped out by various European pathogens.
Like all things, the grisly title of "worst year ever" comes down to historical perspective.
A simple trick allowed marine biologists to prove a long-held suspicion.
- It's long been suspected that sharks navigate the oceans using Earth's magnetic field.
- Sharks are, however, difficult to experiment with.
- Using magnetism, marine biologists figured out a clever way to fool sharks into thinking they're somewhere that they're not.
For some time, scientists have suspected that sharks belong among the growing number of animals known to navigate using Earth's magnetic field. Testing anything with a shark, though, requires some care.
The key was selecting the right candidate. Keller and his colleagues chose the bonnethead shark, Sphyrna tiburo, a small critter that summers at Turkey Point Shoal off the coast of the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory with which Keller is affiliated.
Bonnetheads elsewhere have been known to complete 620-mile roundtrip migrations. As the lab's Dean Grubbs puts it, "That's not bad for a shark that is only two to three feet long. The question is how do they find their way back to that same estuary year after year." There's a report of a great white shark migrating between two locations, one in South Africa and another in Australia, year after year.
The research is published in Current Biology.
Keller and his team rounded up 20 local juvenile bonnetheads and transported them into a holding tank at the marine lab. For the tests, the researchers simulated three real-world magnetic fields. As the various magnetic fields were activated, the sharks' movements were captured by GoPro cameras and their average swimming orientations calculated by software.
The first simulation, serving as a control, mimicked the magnetic field of the nearby shoal from which the sharks had been captured. When this field was activated, the sharks essentially acted like they were "home," just swimming around as they do.
A second field was the magnetic equivalent of a location 600 kilometers south of the lab within the Gulf of Mexico. When this field was activated, the sharks, apparently mistaking themselves for being far south in the Gulf, began swimming northward toward the shoal.
The opposite occurred with a field standing in for a location in continental North America 600 km north of their home shoal — the sharks began swimming southward.
"For 50 years," says Keller, "scientists have hypothesized that sharks use the magnetic field as a navigational aid. This theory has been so popular because sharks, skates, and rays have been shown to be very sensitive to magnetic fields. They have also been trained to react to unique geomagnetic signatures, so we know they are capable of detecting and reacting to variation in the magnetic field."
His team's experiments confirm what's long been suspected, Keller says: "Sharks use map-like information from the geomagnetic field as a navigational aid. This ability is useful for navigation and possibly maintaining population structure."
A machine learning system lets visitors at a Kandinsky exhibition hear the artwork.
Have you ever heard colors?
As part of a new exhibition, the worlds of culture and technology collide, bringing sound to the colors of abstract art pioneer Wassily Kandinsky.
Kandinsky had synesthesia, where looking at colors and shapes causes some with the condition to hear associated sounds. With the help of machine learning, virtual visitors to the Sounds Like Kandinsky exhibition, a partnership project by Centre Pompidou in Paris and Google Arts & Culture, can have an aural experience of his art.
An eye for music
Kandinsky's synesthesia is thought to have heavily influenced his painting. Seeing yellow summoned up trumpets, evoking emotions like cheekiness; reds produced violins portraying restlessness; while organs representing heavenliness he associated with blues, according to the exhibition notes.
Virtual visitors are invited to take part in an experiment called Play a Kandinsky, which allows them to see and hear the world through the artist's eyes.
Kandinsky's synesthesia is thought to have heavily influenced his 1925 painting Yellow, Red, Blue.Image: Guillaume Piolle/Wikimedia Commons
In 1925, the artist's masterpiece, "Yellow, Red, Blue", broke new ground in the world of abstract art, guiding the viewer from left to right with shifting shapes and shades. Almost a century after it was painted, Google's interactive tool lets visitors click different parts of the artwork to journey through the artist's description of the colors, associated sounds and moods that inspired the work.
But Google's new toy is not the only tool developed to enhance the artistic experience.
Artist Neil Harbisson has developed an artificial way to emulate Kandinsky by turning colors into sounds. He has a rare form of color blindness and sees the world in greyscale. But a smart antenna attached to his head translates dominant colors into musical notes, creating a real-world soundtrack of what's in front of him. The invention could open up a new world for people who are color blind.
A new study suggests that private prisons hold prisoners for a longer period of time, wasting the cost savings that private prisons are supposed to provide over public ones.