Why People Fear Embarrassment: the Role of Empathy Neglect

Loraine Lau-Gesk, University of California at Irvine, USA
Patti Williams, University of Pennsylvania, USA
Aimee Drolet, UCLA Anderson School of Management, USA
This research examines factors that determine consumers’ underlying fear of embarrassment and identifies ways to manage embarrassment-avoidant behavior through persuasive ads. Findings from three experiments suggest that empathy neglect underlies embarrassment-avoidant behavior regardless of individuals’ level of public self consciousness (PUBSC). However, embarrassment-avoidant behavior is more likely to be manifest as PUBSC increases. Increased PUBSC is characterized by the increased tendency to overestimate being watched. In two experiments, job application intentions for an embarrassing job increased as people’s chronic level of PUBSC decreased. However, regardless of PUBSC, intentions increased when the ad downplayed the possibility of others evaluating the applicant harshly, whereas intentions decreased when the ad stressed the likelihood of harsh criticism from others. A third experiment revealed that perspective taking reduces empathy neglect tendencies as PUBSC increases. Feelings of empathy and PUBSC are positively correlated. Results are discussed in light of recent research demonstrating the importance of understanding the interaction among multiple emotions including fear, embarrassment and empathy.
[ to cite ]:
Loraine Lau-Gesk, Patti Williams, and Aimee Drolet (2010) ,"Why People Fear Embarrassment: the Role of Empathy Neglect", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 37, eds. Margaret C. Campbell, Jeff Inman, and Rik Pieters, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 146-149 .