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Embarrassment is generally regarded as a form of social anxiety closely related to shyness, audience anxiety, and shame. These variants of social anxiety have many overlapping features, including the involvement of self-presentational concerns (Leary & Schlenker, 1981; Schlenker & Leary, 1982), although there have been many attempts in the literature to highlight crucial differences. Thus, the links between audience anxiety and shyness, on the one hand, and embarrassment and shame, on the other, have been noted by a number of authors (Buss, 1980; Edelmann, 1987a; Schlenker & Leary, 1982).
It has been argued that those who anticipate a discrepancy between their perceived self-presentation and their desired self-presentation are likely to experience shyness or audience anxiety (Asendorpf, 1984, also this volume; Schlenker & Leary, 1982), depending upon the nature of the encounter. Shyness may occur in those situations in which our behaviours are contingent upon the responses of others, whereas audience anxiety is restricted to non-contingent encounters (i.e., encounters that are primarily guided by internal plans, such as when delivering a prepared speech).
Cutting across the shyness and audience anxiety dimensions are social emotions that result from unintentional and undesired predicaments or transgressions (Schlenker & Leary, 1982; Semin & Manstead, 1981, 1982). The social anxiety that results from such predicaments has been termed embarrassment or shame, depending upon the nature of the event. “Shame” usually refers to a private feeling, whereas “embarrassment” involves interpersonal exposure (Goffman, 1956; Modigliani, 1966; Vallelonga, 1976). Thus, Modigliani (1966) comments that “one is primarily ashamed of oneself, while one is primarily embarrassed about one's presented self” (p. 10).