Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Business and Economics


Marketing and Supply Chain

First Advisor

Dr. John Peloza


This dissertation consists of two essays that discuss the influence of embarrassment on consumers. In the first essay, I examine consumers’ coping responses to embarrassment in a meta-analytic review. In essay two, I utilize an experimental approach to investigate the impact of embarrassing encounters on unrelated consumers who merely observe the situation.

In the first essay, the meta-analysis is guided by findings in the literature that demonstrate embarrassment can both promote and detract from consumer well-being. However, despite being investigated for decades, little is known about how consumers cope with embarrassing situations, and when and why consumers respond in positive and negative ways. The meta-analysis draws on the transactional framework of appraisals and coping to analyze the extant literature, construing positive responses as problem-focused coping, and negative responses as emotion-focused coping. I examine both situational and trait factor moderators to explain variance in these divergent outcomes and to resolve competing findings. A meta-analysis of 93 independent samples (N = 24,051) revealed that embarrassment leads to both problem-focused coping (r = 0.21), which can promote consumer well-being, and emotion-focused coping (r = 0.23), which can detract from consumer well-being. The relationship between embarrassment and emotion-focused coping was particularly strong in emotionally intense situations that were out of a transgressor’s control, for female consumers, and for consumers with an individualist orientation. The relationship between embarrassment and problem-focused coping was particularly strong in emotionally intense situations for male and young consumers.

The second essay investigates the influence of embarrassing situations on neutral observers of the situation. The extant literature suggests that a consumer who commits a social transgression will experience embarrassment if real or imagined others are present to witness the transgression. However, the parallel embarrassment experienced, in turn, by those observers lacks a theoretical account, since observers have committed no transgression and are not the subject of appraisal by others. I label this phenomenon observer embarrassment, and introduce perspective taking as the underlying process that leads to observer embarrassment. Across six studies, I use physiological, behavioral, and self-report measures to validate the presence of observer embarrassment, as well as the underlying perspective-taking mechanism. Specifically, the results demonstrate that observers are more likely to experience embarrassment when they imagine themselves as the transgressor (versus experience empathy for the transgressor), something more likely to occur when the observer and actor share a common identity. Thus, observer embarrassment is not an empathetic response to witnessing a social transgression, but rather an experience parallel to personal embarrassment of others.

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