In defense of embarrassment
Unlike many other emotions, embarrassment must be learned. Infants know nothing of this emotion, and parents often use the threat of embarrassment to teach young children correct and incorrect behavior: “If you say that in public, you’ll embarrass yourself,” we say to the toddler with a penchant for scatological chitchat. Embarrassment is also a social emotion; its occurrence requires the real or imagined presence of others. Belch at a dinner party and you will likely feel embarrassed; do it while home alone and you’re unlikely to feel abashed. Because it is a learned behavior grounded in social relations, embarrassment is a kind of barometer for a society’s notions of civility.