Facial blushing influences perceived embarrassment and related social functional evaluations

Cogn Emot. 2020 May;34(3):413-426. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2019.1634004. Epub 2019 Jun 23.


Facial blushing involves a reddening of the face elicited in situations involving unwanted social attention. Such situations include being caught committing a social transgression, which is typically considered embarrassing. While recent research has demonstrated that facial redness can influence social evaluations, including emotional states such as perceived anger, the influence of blushing on social perceptions related to embarrassment or social transgression has yet to be investigated. Across three experiments, we manipulated the redness of neutral faces (Exp. 1) and faces displaying different emotional expressions (Exps. 2 and 3), and had participants evaluate perceived embarrassment, apology sincerity, and likeliness to forgive a transgression for each set of stimuli. Results indicated that redder (relative to baseline) faces influenced perceived embarrassment, apology sincerity, and likeliness to forgive a transgression. We discuss the implications in the context of a social functional account of facial colour in emotion expression and perception.

Keywords: Blushing; embarrassment; face colour; social function.

MeSH terms

  • Blushing / psychology*
  • Embarrassment*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Social Perception*
  • Young Adult