Perhaps I was just unconsciously pre-empting any aggression. Leary thinks that similar reasoning may even explain why we blush when we know people are looking at us (such as when we speak up in a meeting), or even when we are praised; the reddening face is a way of showing that we want to avoid the unwanted attention. (It also makes us look less egotistical, so you are not challenging others’ authority.) And if you find yourself blushing at someone else’s misdeed – such as your father’s farting in public – it’s an unspoken signal that you recognise their mistake, and that you yourself are uncomfortable with breaking the rules.
As Claudia Hammond has explained on BBC Future previously, blushing can’t be faked, meaning it’s one of the few signals of honesty that we can trust without suspicion. The consequence is that people who blush tend to be considered more warmly than people who don’t.
Embarrassment may even be taken as a sign that you are a more altruistic person. While at the University of California, Berkeley, Matthew Feinberg filmed people recalling a mishap from their past, and a panel then judged them on how embarrassed they appeared. It turned out that the more easily flustered they were, the more they reported altruistic views in a subsequent survey. They were also more likely to play honestly in a game with a cash prize.