Why has public shame become so popular?

Why shame and shame are good

The heart begins to race, the face becomes hot and red: When something embarrassing happens to us, we would like to vanish into thin air. Feeling is a good thing

Embarrassment as a warning sign

Imagine: Control on the train - and you forgot your ticket. In the class photo you have greens hanging between your teeth. Your fly is open. You blaspheme a teacher who is behind you. You fart unmistakably in class. How embarrassing! Super embarrassing even!

In situations like this one would like to disappear into the next gully, crawl under the carpet, become invisible. Instead, the head glows bright red like a warning signal. And everyone knows: there is a lot going on inside you ...

Adrenaline rushes through your veins

When we notice that we are embarrassing ourselves, our brain switches to the emergency program in a flash. Without our being able to control it, it commands: increase heart rate, breathe faster. The body prepares to flee. It sends the hormone adrenaline through our veins.

It stimulates the blood circulation, the heart races, the blood vessels dilate - and we blush. Researchers found that our immune system apparently also responds to embarrassing mistakes. It sends out substances that our body would otherwise release in the event of an infection. After an embarrassment, we can feel as weak as we would if we had the flu.

To be ashamed, bonds together

What is all this good for? The ability to be ashamed creates a bond. Without them we would hardly get along, because rules apply in every community. Those who hurt them and behave as they please will be looked at, punished or - even worse - marginalized.

For our ancestors who hunted in groups and fostered together, it could mean death. So they indicated with a red face, bowed head, averted look: "I did something wrong and I feel bad. No more punishment necessary."

In fact, people are more likely to reconcile with someone who is ashamed of their mistakes. In an experiment, the British psychologist Antony Manstead showed participants two videos: Each one showed a man knocking over a pyramid made of toilet rolls in the supermarket.

Once he showed that he was embarrassed by the mishap. The other time he didn't change his face. The result: the audience liked the contrite clumsy better, and would even have helped him.

Small children are not embarrassed

Perhaps you have noticed that toddlers cannot be ashamed yet. They pick their noses on the bus or talk loudly about strangers.

In order for us to be a little embarrassed, we first have to learn to see ourselves through the eyes of others - and children only manage that from around the age of two.

Shame as punishment in the Middle Ages

But once we have internalized shame, it can do a lot. People knew that a long time ago.

Anyone who had eaten up something in the Middle Ages was chained to a stake and laughed at. Telling lies about others at the market fountain? As a punishment one had to carry a heavy stone through the city.

Being exposed in front of others is a deterrent. That is why judges in the US these days send some thieves not to jail but to the streets with an "I stole" sign around their necks.

Shame is cultural

Feelings of shame are not only ancient, they are everywhere. However, people from different countries find different things embarrassing depending on the rules that apply to them. Europeans are uncomfortable with a price tag on a gift.

The Chinese are ashamed of blowing their noses in public. Of course, with so many faux pas, everyone embarrasses themselves from time to time. Then the only thing left to do is blush, apologize and laugh together.