A few years ago I was in a nice restaurant and forgot to cover my mouth when I laughed (I didn't want to show my teeth because the glue on my braces had badly discolored and my teeth looked stained since they were covered with the glue), and the waiter thought it was sweet that I blushed. I told him my temporary "glue" situation was mortifying to me even though I'm a reasonably confident person. It wasn't a blunder as such but he told me not to blush and that I looked "fabulous"! Bless his heart! When the bill came I noticed my two glasses of wine were on the house because he had empathized with me. No one wants to feel embarrassed about how they look. (His reward was a generous tip in return!)
People empathize with a person when they publicly show a little embarrassment and often compensate them somehow for showing this emotion. Even outgoing and confident people have found themselves in a situation where they wished they could disappear into the ground, rather than look someone in the eye after an embarrassing gaff. In a world of cockiness and people loudly demanding their rights, it’s apparently refreshing to see a little humility and less arrogance in a fellow human being. So refreshing in fact, that we like to reward it.
The University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands conducted a study of nearly 200 people ranging in age from older teens to those in their 40s. The study participants were instructed to play a game whereby they worked with partners to win a game, but then changed things up afterward whereby the partner turned against the study participant, causing him or her to lose.
The participants were then shown photos of their former partner-turned- dissident. The photos of their former allies were divided into four expressions: neutral with no blush, neutral with blush, embarrassed with no blush and embarrassment with blush. The participants were more likely to forgive them if they blushed in the photos, even if they didn’t look embarrassed. They were also more likely to trust them again, rather than those who didn’t blush at all and rated them as more “honest” even if what they had done to them was disloyal.