Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 197–217 | Cite as

Communicative and Remedial Effects of Social Blushing

  • Peter J. de Jong


Three experiments (N = 90; N = 78; N = 52) examined the communicative and remedial properties of blushing. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants read scripts describing incidents that took place in shops. Following the mishap the actor left while displaying a blush (target condition), left the shop without overt signs of shame or embarrassment (baseline condition), or left while displaying shame by nonverbal behaviors other than blushing (comparison condition). Participants were put in the perspective of a shopping observer and were asked to evaluate the actor and the incident. Blushing clearly attenuated the negative evaluation of the incident, lowered the responsibility of the actor, and sustained the actor's trustworthiness. The remedial effects of blushing were even stronger than those of glancing about with the expression of shame. Experiment 2 explored what type of message may elicit these remedial effects and showed that blushing communicates that the actor is strongly attached to the observer's rules, despite the current violation. Experiment 3 provided further evidence for a communicative account of blushing by showing that the actors' blush probability estimates varied as a function of the degree to which the actors shared the rules of the observers. The present findings fit comfortably within a conceptualization of blushing as a remedial gesture.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bögels, S.M., Alberts, M., & de Jong, P.J. (1996). Self-consciousness, self-focused attention, blushing propensity and fear of blushing. Personality and Individual Differences, 21, 573–581.Google Scholar
  2. Bögels, S.M., Mulkens, S., & de Jong, P.J. (1997). Task concentration training and fear of blushing. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 4, 251–258.Google Scholar
  3. Castelfranchi, C., & Poggi, I. (1990). Blushing as a discourse: Was Darwin wrong? In W.R. Crozier (Ed.), Shyness and embarrassment: Perspectives from social psychology (pp. 230–251). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Cutlip II, W.D., & Leary, M.R. (1993). Anatomic and physiological bases of social blushing: speculations from neurology and psychology. Behavioral Neurology, 6, 181–185.Google Scholar
  5. Darwin, C. (1989). The expression of the emotions in man and animals. New York: New York University Press. (Original work published in 1872)Google Scholar
  6. de Waal, F.B.M. (1989). Peacemaking among primates. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  7. de Waal, F.B.M. (1995). Good natured: The origins of right and wrong in humans and other animals. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Drummond, P.D. (1997). The effect of adrenergic blockade on blushing and facial flushing. Psychophysiology, 34, 163–168.Google Scholar
  9. Edelmann, R.J. (1990). Chronic blushing, self-consciousness, and social anxiety. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 12, 119–127.Google Scholar
  10. Frank, R.H. (1988). Passions within reason—The strategic role of the emotions. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  11. Goffman, E. (1967). Interaction ritual: Essays on face-to-face behavior. Garden City: Anchor.Google Scholar
  12. Goodhart, C.B. (1960). The evolutionary significance of human hair patterns and skin colouring. Advancement of Science, 17, 53–59.Google Scholar
  13. Keltner, D. (1995). Signs of appeasement: evidence for the distinct displays of embarrassment, amusement, and shame. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 441–454.Google Scholar
  14. Keltner, D., & Buswell, B.N. (1997). Embarrassment: its distinct form and appeasement functions. Psychological Bulletin, 122, 250–270.Google Scholar
  15. Keltner, D., & Buswell, B.N. (1996). Evidence for the distinctness of embarrassment, shame, and guilt: a study of recalled antecedents and facial expressions of emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 10, 155–171.Google Scholar
  16. Keltner, D., Young, R.C., & Buswell, B.N. (1997). Appeasement in human emotion, social practice, and personality. Aggressive Behavior, 23, 359–374.Google Scholar
  17. King, J.C. (1981). The biology of race. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  18. Leary, M.R., Britt, T.W., Cutlip II, W.D., & Templeton, J.L. (1992). Social Blushing. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 446–460.Google Scholar
  19. Leary, M.R., Landel, J.L., & Patton, K.M. (1996). The motivated expression of embarrassment following a self-presentational predicament. Journal of Personality, 64, 619–636.Google Scholar
  20. Mellander, S., Andersson, P., Afzelius, L., & Hellstrand, P. (1982). Neural beta-adrenergic dilatation of the facial vein in man: Possible mechanisms in emotional blushing. Acta Physiologica Scandinavia, 114, 393–399.Google Scholar
  21. Parkinson, B., & Manstead, A.S.R. (1993). Making sense of emotion in stories and social life. Cognition and Emotion, 7, 295–323.Google Scholar
  22. Semin, G.R. (1982). The transparency of the sinner. European Journal of Social Psychology, 12, 173–180.Google Scholar
  23. Semin, G.R., & Manstead, A.S.R. (1982). The social implications of embarrassment displays and restitution behavior. European Journal of Social Psychology, 12, 367–377.Google Scholar
  24. Shields, S.A., Mallory, M.E., & Simon, A. (1990). The experience and symptoms of blushing as a function of age and reported frequency of blushing. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 14, 171–187.Google Scholar
  25. Simon, A., & Shields, S.A. (1996). Does complexion color affect the experience of blushing? Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 11, 177–188.Google Scholar
  26. Tangney, J.P., Miller, R.S., Flicker, L., & Barlow, D.H. (1996). Are shame, guilt, and embarrassment distinct emotions? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 1256–1264.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter J. de Jong
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Experimental Abnormal PsychologyMaastricht UniversityThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations