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The Embarrassed Brain

May 17, 2011

Researchers have identified the region of the brain responsible for humiliation.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

The embarrassed brain…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

YouTube karaoke clip singing “My Girl”by the Tempatations:

Well, I guess you’ll say

What can make me feel this way?

My girl. (My girl, my girl)

Talkin’ ’bout my girl. (My girl)

Many things in life are embarrassing, like singing in public. Now researchers have identified the region of the brain responsible for humiliation. University of San Franscisco clinical psychologist Virginia Sturm and her colleagues had volunteers watch themselves sing “My Girl”. Most showed signs of embarrassment, such as excessive smiling, an elevated heartrate, and sweaty hands. But dementia patients with damage to an area of the medial frontal cortex of the brain showed little such humiliation.

VIRGINIA STURM (University of California, San Franscisco):

They don’t smile, they don’t laugh, they don’t really react at all.

HIRSHON:

She says emotions like embarrassment are important, because they help us behave in socially appropriate ways. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.