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The effect of embarrassment upon dyadic interaction was studied in a semi-naturalistic setting. Subject pairs participated in an alternating question and answer session at one of two interactional distances (1 or 2 in), utilizing questions which increased in their intimacy content. A control group who had only non-intimate questions was also investigated. It was found that topic intimacy, but not interactional distance affected the embarrassment potential of the situation. Increases in embarrassment caused typical changes in nonverbal behavior (decreased eye contact, increased gestural activity, and increased smiling) for both pair members while speaking and listening, and also an increase in speech disturbances. Also, as embarrassment increased mutual gaze decreased, whilst mutual disregard and reciprocated body motion increased; reciprocated looking and reciprocated smiling were not affected. Increases in embarrassment did not affect the amount of self-disclosure for each individual, although verbal output was suppressed relative to the control group. Significant reciprocation of self-disclosure occurred in less than one-third of the interacting pairs. The possibility of evolving coping strategies for embarrassment are discussed in the light of the results.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 1981-01-01

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