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Embarrassment: The ingroup–outgroup audience effect in faux pas situations

Authors

  • Anja Eller,

    Corresponding author
    • School of Psychology, University of St Andrews, UK
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  • Miriam Koschate,

    1. School of Psychology, University of St Andrews, UK
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  • Kim-Michelle Gilson

    1. Department of Psychology, School of Behavioural Science, University of Melbourne, Australia
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    • Study 1 is part of the third author's BSc thesis. Different aspects of the findings reported in this paper were presented as Eller, A., & Koschate, M. (2010). ¿Te importa o te vale? ¿Que audiencia nos causa pena? [Do you care or not? Which audience causes us embarrassment?]. Paper presented at the XIII Mexican Congress of Social Psychology, Hermosillo, Mexico, 8–10 September; Koschate, M., & Eller, A. (2010). Embarrassment depends on who you have in mind. Paper presented at the British Psychological Society Social Psychology Section Annual Conference, Winchester, 7–9 September; Eller, A., & Koschate, M. (2010). Not giving a damn: The ingroup–outgroup audience effect in embarrassment. Paper presented at the 8th Biennial Convention of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, New Orleans, USA, 24–27 June; Eller, A., Koschate, M., Gilson, K. & Hull, C. (2009). Vergüenza: El efecto del público de grupos pertenencia y externos en situaciones bochornosas [Embarrassment: The ingroup–outgroup audience effect in faux pas situations]. Paper presented at the XVII Mexican Congress of Psychology, Acapulco, Mexico, 14–16 October; Eller, A., Koschate, M., & Gilson, K. (2009). Erröten für die Anderen: Intergruppenkontakt und Verlegenheit gegenüber Fremdgruppenmitgliedern. [Blushing for others: Intergroup contact and embarrassment vis-à-vis outgroup members]. Paper presented at the 12. Tagung de Fachgruppe der Sozialpsychologie' of the German Association of Psychology (DGfP), Luxembourg, September 2–4; Koschate, M., Eller, A., & Gilson, K. (2009). Blushing for the outgroup: Intergroup contact as a predictor of embarrassment. Paper presented at the British Psychological Society Social Psychology Section Annual Conference, Sheffield, 15–17 September; Eller, A., Koschate, M., Gilson, K. & Hull, C. (2009). Embarrassment: The ingroup–outgroup audience effect in faux pas situations. Poster presented at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference, Brighton, April 1–3; and Eller, A. & Gilson, K. (2008). Embarrassment: Intergroup audience effects. Paper presented at the 15th General Meeting of the European Association of Experimental Social Psychologists, Opatija, Croatia, June 10–14.

Anja Eller, School of Psychology, St. Mary's College, South Street, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 9JP, UK. E-mail: Anja.Eller@st-andrews.ac.uk

Abstract

Embarrassment arises when we reveal an apparent flaw of the self in front of others, for instance, in a faux pas situation. An audience is crucial for embarrassment, but the group membership of the audience has not yet been studied. According to the social identity approach, we assign more importance to evaluations by ingroup than by outgroup members, particularly when we identify highly, and the outgroup is of lower status. A pilot study (N = 30) showed that embarrassment correlated positively with group membership of the audience and with identification. Studies 1 to 3 presented participants with several faux pas scenarios. In Study 1 (between-participants design; N = 75), participants reported higher embarrassment in ingroup (Norwegian) and equal-status outgroup (Swedish) conditions than in a lower-status outgroup condition (Polish). In Study 2 (within-participants design; N = 135), participants reported higher embarrassment when they imagined the audience to be other Scots (ingroup) than Americans or Poles (outgroups), particularly when they perceived the outgroup to be lower in status. In Study 3 (between-participants design; N = 59), high identifiers but not low identifiers showed the expected ingroup–outgroup audience effect. Implications for intergroup relations are discussed. Key Message: Embarrassment following faux pas situations depends on the group membership of the audience, relative status of the audience and ingroup identification. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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