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Blushing and Body Language – 6 Facts About Guilt, Blaming and Embarrassment

 

  1. Why and how do you blush when you are embarrassed?

Heavy blushing usually related to moments when we feel that the positive side of our image has been damaged, by us or by someone else. But it’s not always that simple. While the exact emotions that result in blushing remain difficult to pin-point: they’re different for each person and situation, the physical symptoms are easier to explain.

It’s related to your fight-or-flight response. You might logically think that there’s no physical threat. True. But in some way there is a threat of either rejection or loss of stature, or position. You just don’t want to look dumb or stupid, or get negative attention. When we feel (subconsciously) threatened, our sympathetic nervous system (the one that does things we don’t have to think about), gears up for action. This includes the release of adrenaline, which leads to an increased heart rate and wider blood vessels. When that happens to the capillaries (really thin blood vessels) in your face, the blood flow increases and you turn read. As simple and as awkward as that. Because it happens in the sympathetic nervous system, it’s also really hard (or pretty much impossible) to suppress. (sources at end)

  1. The murder of Kitty Genovese

The murder of Kitty Genovese became infamous crime and an unintentional case study in human behaviour around responsibility. On the 13th of March, 1964, Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death in the Queens area, New York. Not much later, only six days, Winston Mosely was arrested at a burglary and he also confessed to murdering Kitty. These aren’t even the oddest details about the case. Investigations suggested that over 35 people either heard part of or witnessed part of the crime, yet nobody came to her aid. Mosely was sentenced to death, but this was reduced to life imprisonment. When he died in 2016 (source), the New York Times – which published the original report about the investigations – stated that the original report was exaggerated. Several things have been amended since then. Apparently the police was called by at least 2 people, but they did not respond as they believed it was a domestic dispute rather than an actual murder. But however many witnesses there were, this idea that the more people witness something happen, the less people feel the need to act upon it. The “responsibility” is diminished; people might subconsciously expect someone else to handle it because there are enough people anyway. Nevertheless, this effect is often referred to as either the bystander effect, or the Kitty Genovese Effect, in her honor.

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  1. Where does the expression “scapegoat” come from?

Calling someone a “scapegoat” is a characteristic expression for a person blamed for something someone else has done. But why the goat? Where does the expression come from? Apparently it comes from the Old Testament of the Bible. In the book of Leviticus, Moses is commanded as follows: “Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat.” This scapegoat was supposed to be released into the wilderness, symbolically (or literally, depending on the belief system) carrying the sins of the village out with it. In that way, it developed the meaning of someone carrying the burden of things done by others. Some modern branches of Christianity also liken this event to the sacrifice of Jesus, giving himself up for the sins of humanity.

  1. Is blushing from embarrassment a psychological or a social phenomenon?

It would be amazing to say it’s either one or the other, but as you know, with psychology subjects it’s usually a little bit of both. In the social sense, it’s mostly triggered when there are others present. It does happen that people blush when they are on their own, but in the majority of cases is happens (partly) because of the presence of others. In the psychological sense; another big part of embarrassment is the fact that we feel – subconsciously or consciously – that this moment was embarrassing, whether that’s true or not. It’s our perception and judgement of the moment that is a major factor in whether we feel embarrassed and therefore start blushing. Therefore it will always be both social and psychological. (source)

  1. How do they test how people handle social stress/embarrassment in psychology research?

Psychological research is difficult for all sort of reasons, but it turns really tricky when you want to test people while they are experiencing a certain emotion. How do you make sure they are experiencing that emotion at the moment of the test? Well, some clever psychology scientists have thought of a way to, at least, get people stressed or embarrassed. This happens with the Trier Social Stress Test, which has been proven to be a fairly reliable method of making people stressed. It’s mostly used for neurobiological research purposes (the mostly the nerves in your brain and your brain’s response). “The Trier Social Stress Test induces stress by requiring participants to make an interview-style presentation, followed by a surprise mental arithmetic test, in front of an interview panel who do not provide [positive] feedback or encouragement”  (source). Sounds quite stressful to me!

  1. Is it true that you can tell when someone is lying by their eyes?

Avoiding eye-contact is a commonly discussed “sign”. We might even do it unintentionally, because we might believe that people can read our lies in our eyes. But this is definitely not the be-all-end-all of telling when someone is lying. In fact, it might not mean anything in a lot of cases, some people just don’t make a lot of eye-contact in general. To add to that, unusually intense and frequent eye-contact can also be a sign that someone is trying too hard to seem like they’re telling the truth when they are not. The most important thing in eye/looking behaviour and lies, is deviation. You want to watch out for deviations from normal behaviour. Then again, there is so much variation between people – and unfortunately some are just quite convincing liars – so body language always remains a tricky subject.

So these were some very interesting facts about guilt, embarrassment and lying. We know that some of these answers are so much more complex than in this article, and that’s why we want to ask you: which one would you most like to see as a full-length stand-alone article? What floats your boat? Research methods, or perhaps body language? Or any of the others? Let us know on facebook or tumblr and we’ll collect the votes for you!

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Sources

Cleromancy

Scapegoat Etymology

How Stuff Works: Blushing 

20 Years After the Murder of Kitty Genovese: Why?

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