What I am trying to understand is why do I feel embarrassed in certain situation.

E.g. when I'm talking to people, why do I think about being judged or sounding stupid that would result me in embarrassment. I have been considered as "intelligent" since I was a kid and may be making or looking stupid goes against my own belief of me being 'intelligent'?

Also, when I'm playing a game or playing music, I think about embarrassing myself, making mistakes and think what may the audience/team mates thinking about me? So I avoid it and when I actually get a chance of play, I make mistake and regret/punish myself mentally for making a mistake or regret quite a bit. So, basically, this results me in being low confident.

I'm thinking about "impressing people" and me resulting in an embarrassing situation, acting stupid, sounding stupid would spoil my "impression". However, I want to act stupid or sound stupid sometime and be ok with it. Somehow my biology/mind prevents me every time and I feel the resistance.

So, in search of understanding the reason, I wanted to ask if this has any evolutionary benefit or is it part of natural selection? E.g. having a better chances of survival, when you express less/ be quiet or shy, so that others are not threatened by you?

Can anybody with more knowledge shed some light or possibly guide me to help my situation?

Thanks for reading a long post!

  • $\begingroup$ What if there is no benefit per se and is merely a side effect of something that does confer a benefit e.g. social cognition, theory of mind. $\endgroup$
    – faustus
    May 3, 2019 at 19:21

1 Answer 1


Marks and Nesse investigated evolutionary causes of anxiety disorders and reported about embarrassment in particular:

Social threats evoke responses that promote group acceptance, for example, submission to dominants and to norms of dress, mien, odor, speech, customs, beliefs. This prevents dangerous extrusion from the group. Mild shyness and embarrassment can promote acceptance. If shyness and embarrassment are excessive, however, then fitness suffers, as in several anxiety disorders: pervasive shyness in avoidant personality disorder; gaze aversion and fear of scrutiny, of shaking, and of blushing in social 252 I. M. Marks and R. M. Nesse phobia; fear of excreting near others in sphincteric phobias (Marks 1987, pp. 362-371); terror of looking or smelling abnormal in dysmorphopho- bia; fear of behaving antisocially in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Impulses to behave in ways that would cause social rejection may arouse general anxiety without the subject being aware of those punishable impulses, thus helping to conceal them from others (Nesse 1990). We do not emphasize a distinction between fear of specific dangers and anxiety aroused by nonspecific dangers or unconscious impulses, because in all cases the state, whether anxiety or fear, is aroused by a cue that indicates a threat to reproductive resources.

Nesse, Randolph M. "Fear and fitness: An evolutionary analysis of anxiety disorders." Ethology and sociobiology 15.5-6 (1994): 247-261. https://doi.org/10.1016/0162-3095(94)90002-7

  • $\begingroup$ Is there any indication as to how one can overcome? I believe the normal anxiety or natural shyness that nature has selected for the "survival" do not so much come in a way, however the excessive do. And I wanted to understand what could be the reason for "excessive shyness"? $\endgroup$
    – Zammy Page
    May 3, 2019 at 23:47
  • $\begingroup$ Exposure therapy: anxietycanada.com/sites/default/files/FacingFears_Exposure.pdf There's positive feedback loops in reinforced avoidance. $\endgroup$ May 4, 2019 at 0:35
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. I have heard that one before. Is there any other therapies beside ET and CBT? $\endgroup$
    – Zammy Page
    May 4, 2019 at 0:43
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, progressive muscle relaxation, abdominal breathing, mindfulness approaches etc.But they can be used simultaneously with ET. $\endgroup$ May 4, 2019 at 1:00

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