The social emotion of embarrassment: Modulations of neural circuits in response to own and others’ social predicaments
17 March 2016
Number of pages
Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
Embarrassment is a so called social emotion arising during the interaction with our surrounding social world. It is present
in various situations in our daily lives and holds a regulative function telling us how to perform according to prevalent
norms and moral values. Due to the human ability to infer and share others' emotions, thoughts or intentions embarrassment
is often also experienced vicariously for others. This thesis is focused on the neural and physiological correlates of embarrassment
and its vicarious form. The main focus thereby lies on treating both as social phenomena and the implementation and development
of social paradigms. The results show that during embarrassment and its vicarious form two neural networks are involved, the
mentalizing network, mapping the component of thinking about the others’ evaluations, and a network comprising the anterior
insula and the anterior cingulate cortex, mapping the component of affective arousal. Both networks interacted with ventral
aspects of the anterior insula and the amygdala, areas closely linked to emotion processing, during the first-hand experience
of embarrassment. Further, the studies could show that social closeness affected processing of vicarious embarrassment and
increased interoceptive sharing of another’s embarrassment, while individuals with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder
show deficient processing of vicarious embarrassment. Increased levels of trait social anxiety were associated with increased
activations of the mentalizing network, corroborating the assumption of heightened attention to social cues and negative thoughts
about others’ evaluations in social anxiety disorder.
Research conducted at: Universiteit van Amsterdam
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