The study, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, found that people who are feeling embarrassed are more likely to choose items that hide or 'repair' the face, such as face creams; as these can help to alleviate feelings of embarrassment.
"It is interesting to speculate that people who wear cosmetics on a daily basis may be more tolerant of potentially embarrassing behaviour,” explains Ping Dong, a doctoral student at the University of Toronto and lead author of the new research.
"Previous research on embarrassment mainly documents that embarrassed individuals are motivated to avoid public exposure. However, little work has been done to examine how they could cope with embarrassment."
As such, Dong and colleagues Xun (Irene) Huang of Sun Yat-Sen University and Robert S. Wyer, Jr of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, probed the idea of ‘saving face’ and how this can be one tool for coping with embarrassment, a common negative emotion.
The team asked participants to recall embarrassing situations and experiences, and found that when doing so people tended to want to cover up their faces.
Products that were most favoured for this use turned out to be restorative face creams, along with large sunglasses.
Additional research revealed that participants who actually used the ‘restorative’ facial cream after re-experiencing an embarrassing moment reported lower embarrassment ratings, and they were more likely to seek out social interaction; and proved to be the most effective method to ‘save face’.
"Although embarrassment leads people both to hide their face and to restore their face, only by restoring their face can their embarrassment be decreased, as evidenced in their greater desire to participate in social activities," Dong explains.
The findings highlight the unconscious influence that metaphorical thinking can have on everyday behaviors, but Dong notes that this influence may depend on cultural differences not examined in the present studies given that all participants were Hong Kong Chinese.
"The metaphorical concept of 'hiding one's face' is fairly widespread, but the concepts of 'losing face' and 'saving face' are more pervasive in Asian than in Western cultures," she observes.
"Although the effects of embarrassment on symbolically hiding one's face are likely to generalize to Western cultures, the effect of symbolically restoring one's face might not."