Recording people belting out an old Motown tune and then asking them to listen to their own singing without the accompanying music seems like an unusually cruel form of punishment. But for a team of scientists at the University of California, San Francisco and University of California, Berkeley, this exact Karaoke experiment has revealed what part of the brain is essential for embarrassment.
The twist to the experiment was that most of the subjects had neurodegenerative diseases, which helped scientists identify a thumb-sized bit of tissue in the right hemisphere of the front part of the brain called the “pregenual anterior cingulate cortex” as integral to embarrassment.
The degree to which the singers were embarrassed in hearing themselves sing “My Girl” — the 1964 hit by the Temptations — depended on the integrity of this particular region.
“In healthy people, watching themselves sing elicits a considerable embarrassment reaction,” said Virginia Sturm, a postdoctoral fellow at UCSF. Their blood pressure goes up, their heart rate increases, and their breathing changes, she explained. People who had neurological damage in the medial frontal cortex, however, responded more indifferently.
“This brain region predicted the behavior,” said Sturm. “The smaller the region, the less embarrassed the people were.”
Knowing that people lose their ability to be embarrassed and which part of the brain governs that ability may suggest ways to help diagnose people with certain neurodegenerative diseases earlier.
Read more here Neurological basis for embarrassment described.