We’ve all had that moment where we want nothing more than to bury our heads in the sand. This desire to hide our faces is a common experience when embarrassed. A study of Hong Kong students performed by researchers in Toronto has returned concrete data confirming our desire to “save face.”
The study, published in Psychological Science had 200 students split into two groups. The first experiment had half the students recall an embarrassing event and half the students recalling an average day at school. Following this recall, both groups were shown photographs of people wearing sunglasses and asked which sunglasses they would prefer to purchase. The group who had recounted their embarrassment strongly preferred larger, darker sunglasses. This echoes the sentiment that embarrassment leads to a desire to cover one’s face.
The second experiment started much the same: one group recounted embarrassing stories while the other recounted a school day. This time, instead of being shown sunglasses, the subjects were shown a wide range of products, including clothing, sunglasses, face creams and various accessories. The data from this study shows the embarrassed students preferred the face creams much more than the control group.
Following this, the embarrassed students were given a number of hypothetical activities to choose from. Those who chose the face cream in the previous experiment chose outwardly social activities, suggesting the application of face cream helped to quell their embarrassment. Those students who chose sunglasses, on the other hand, chose to participate in solitary, anti-social activities.
Study authors admit, “Symbolically repairing one’s face eliminates aversive feelings of embarrassment and restores one’s willingness to engage in social activities.” But before you go out and purchase armloads of face moisturizer, the study authors have a word of warning, saying, “Symbolically hiding one’s face has little impact.”