Raising Happiness


The Takeaway: Blushing is a Good Thing

November 13, 2009 | The Takeaway | 3 comments

The other day Molly, my nearly-seven-year-old, whacked her sister playfully, but too hard. Like a puppy, she recoiled when she realized her mistake, feeling embarrassed because Fiona's cool third-grade friends witnessed the gaff and were commenting. (She's very self-conscious about seeming like the "baby" sister.)

"Don't be embarrassed," I said to Molly, thinking I was being extra growth-mindset. "It's okay to make mistakes so long as you apologize and learn from them.

"Sorry I hit you, Fiona," Molly said, red in the face.

Hating to see Molly uncomfortable over what to me was nothing, I again told her not to feel embarrassed. But I shouldn't have. Not only is it an emotion-coaching no-no to tell kids how to feel—or that they shouldn't feel something they are already feeling—but it turns out that embarrassment is a good thing.

Research shows that people who blush are judged more favorably than those who don't in the face of a mistake. People understand that when someone is blushing they are feeling embarrassment or shame, and they take this as a sincere acknowledgement of wrongdoing, a sign that they won't make the same mistake again. Researchers believe that this is adaptive socially—that it could prevent people from being excluded from their group.

So Molly knew what she was doing by blushing after her faux pas. Next time I'll say, "It's okay to be embarrassed, Molly. Did you know that blushing is actually a good thing?"

To read more about the study cited here, see this Greater Good research brief or Greater Good Executive Editor Dacher Keltner's May essay.

* * *

What IS this posting, you ask? In preparing for our big website relaunch in early 2010, we are experimenting with new types of content on Half Full: Science for Raising Happy Kids. "The Takeaway" is what I as a parent takeaway from research that is posted on the Greater Good Magazine blog. Let us know what you think.

© 2009 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

Selected reference:

Dijk, C., De Jong, P. J., Peters, M. L. (2009). "The remedial value of blushing in the context of transgressions and mishaps." Emotion, 9(2), 287-291.

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