The Influence of Self-Focused Attention on Blushing during Social Interaction
Kim, Kiho, Cho, Sungkun, Lee, Jang-Han, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal
Although blushing is a common emotional response (Darwin, 1872/1989), most people consider blushing undesirable and often try to stop or conceal it. Some individuals experience high levels of distress about blushing, possibly leading to blushing phobia (erythrophobia) or social phobia (Bogels, Mulkens, & de Jong, 1997; Scholing & Emmelkamp, 1993). In an attempt to facilitate the understanding of the fear of blushing, Dijk, Voncken, and de Jong (2009) proposed a cognitive model of fear of blushing. According to this model, the trigger stimulus is the belief--which can be true or false--that one is blushing. The fear of blushing is assumed to elicit negative and dysfunctional beliefs regarding the expense of blushing. For example, individuals with a fear of blushing may anticipate being rejected by others who notice their bodily reactions (Bogels, 2006). Such anticipation causes fear and this fear of blushing leads to an increased state of self-focused attention (SFA). Finally, this increased state of SFA leads to a quicker and more sensitive detection of small temperature increases, thus leading to an increased, or even exaggerated, sensation of blushing (Mulkens, de Jong, Dobbelaar, & Bogels, 1999)
One critical assumption in the model is that a heightened state of SFA plays a crucial role in the development and maintenance of the fear of blushing. However, to date research on the effect of SFA on the fear of bodily reactions has yielded conflicting results. While in some studies results have shown that heightened SFA leads to anxiety (e.g., Bogels & Lamers, 2002; Woody, 1996), in other studies no anxiety-provoking effects caused by increased SFA have been observed (Bogels & Mansell, 2004; Bogels, Rijsemus, & de Jong, 2002). In addition, although there are already studies in which the authors suggested that the trait of SFA increases awareness of physiological reactions (Fenigstein & Carver, 1978; Wegner & Giuliano, 1980), it is still unclear whether or not focusing attention on oneself increases physiological arousal.
Therefore, in this study we investigated the relationship between the trait of SFA and sensitivity to blushing. In order to also examine the effect of SFA on actual physiological blushing, we used infrared thermography to measure real-time changes in facial skin temperature of individuals before, during, and after blushing episodes during social encounters that might be expected to be blush-inducing. Consequently, we hypothesized:
Hypothesis 1: Participants with high SFA will experience blushing more intensely and more frequently than will those with low SFA in situations that might be expected to be blush-inducing.
Hypothesis 2: Facial skin temperature as an indicator of blushing will be higher in participants with high SFA than in those with low SFA, before, during, and after being exposed to a situation that might be expected to be blush-inducing.
Participants and Self-report Measures
Prior to the experiment, 416 undergraduate students from Chung-Ang University completed the General SFA subscale of the Scale for Dispositional Self-focused Attention in Social Situations (Lee & Kwon, 2005). From this sample, we selected 56 participants with the most extreme scores in the distribution (i.e., the top 20% and the bottom 20%) to take part in the study. The group that comprised the top 20% was classified as high trait SFA and the bottom 20% group was classified as having low SFA. The high SFA group consisted of 12 men and 17 women, with a mean age of 21.51 (SD = 1.86) years, and the low SFA group consisted of 11 men and 16 women, with a mean age of 21.56 (SD = 3.04) years. In order to provide a more comprehensive description of the sample, participants also completed the Blushing Propensity Scale, which measures the degree to which people expect to blush in social situations (Leary & Meadows, 1991), and the blushing subscale of the Blushing, Trembling, and Sweating Questionnaire (Bogels & Reith, 1999), which measures the extent to which individuals consider blushing as a difficulty and how afraid they are of blushing. …