The Science of Awkwardness


Hey, Vsauce. Michael here. Not knowing what to do with your hands or offering a handshake when the other person offers a fist bump. Forgetting someone’s name… Not having anything to say and
forgetting your phone at home so you can’t be distracted by it.
Getting caught staring at a stranger. Striking up a conversation with someone
you don’t know in a bathroom. Someone oversharing, telling a group too much information.
Overhearing a couple breaking up. Noticing food in someone’s teeth but not
telling them and, well, now it’s been too long and bringing up would be weird. Smelling a fart in an elevator that wasn’t yours but, well, now you can’t even react to it
or mention that you’ve noticed it or pretend to even know what a fart is.
All of those things are awkward. We don’t like awkwardness. It makes us uncomfortable, cringe. But what is awkwardness? Why is it good and who is the main character of the universe? To really understand awkwardness we need
to put it in context with the entire family of forces that guide social behaviour. Think of this sheet of cardboard as a
list all possible behaviours. It’s not infinite because of
the limits of science and biology. You can’t move faster than light
or be in two places at once. You can’t wear pants made out of molten lead. Next, there are legal limits – the laws of the state. They delineate what you agree
not to do, lest the authorities punish you – murder, stealing, speeding. What’s left is molded by the finder tool of social expectations. It’s not illegal to chew with your mouth open or not cover a sneeze on a crowded bus or act disrespectfully, but it is frowned upon. Punished not by the police, but by social ostracism, public opprobrium. Being called rude, gross, mean, annoying. Awkwardness is the finest tool. It sands social dynamics by smoothing out what
even etiquette doesn’t rule on. It’s not a violation of the laws of physics
to accidentally hug someone for longer than they expected.
It’s not against the law either. And the etiquette
for how long a hug should last isn’t black-and-white. But it is awkward. Like touching a hot stove or
getting a parking fine or losing friends, awkwardness nudges us to
avoid certain actions in the future and smooth things out when they happen.
People who demonstrate self-consciousness when needed are communicating cooperative intentions, which helps them get along well with
others. It’s no coincidence that brains, susceptible to feeling occasional
awkwardness, would become so common. They’re successful at cooperating, at social life. Feeling awkward shows
that you understand and are keen on smooth social exchanges. Now, too much or too little concern for social rules isn’t healthy, but researchers found that just the right amount is great. When a person shows remorse or embarrassment or awkward discomfort, when appropriate, others perceive them as being more
trustworthy, and their actions as more forgivable. And it’s not just perception. Such individuals also tend to be more
objectively prosocial when tested. Kinder, more generous. Even when a person
is completely oblivious to a faux pas they’ve committed, awkwardness still arises. People around them can feel uncomfortable. It’s called vicarious embarrassment and it’s a function of empathy – the ability to feel what others feel or will feel, when or if they realize what they’ve just done. The more ‘EEE’ someone is, that is easily sympathetically embarrassed,
the harder it is for them to sit through other people’s cringe-inducing moments, even fictional once like in cringe comedy. Researchers found that being more easily
and pathetically embarrassed does not correlate to be more easily
embarrassed yourself. Instead, it’s linked to being more empathetic, an important capacity for social creatures to have.
Our seemingly counter-intuitive attraction to viewing cringing moments like, say, bad American Idol auditions,
is perhaps then just a light form of morbid curiosity. You may think that awkwardness is totally different from physical pain or outright name-calling. But your brain would disagree. You see, researchers found that social missteps
activate, among other regions, the secondary somatosensory cortex and dorsal posterior insula – areas of the
brain that are also connected to the sensation of physical pain. Our brains process the breaking of social standards
and the breaking of bones through similar neural pathways. Likewise the same sympathetic nervous system that
mobilizes you to deal with physical threats, “fight or flight”, is activated by social challenges where awkwardness or embarrassment might be at stake.
Like events where you are very aware of being watched. Speaking in front of a group or embarrassing yourself in front of
onlookers or having nothing to say on a first date. Awkward silence… Your blood pressure increases, causing you to overheat and sweat. Oxygen is needed for fighting and running, so breathing
increases and digestion shuts down, causing nausea and butterflies in your stomach. Your body instinctively contracts into a
protective fetal position and fighting that reaction to act natural makes you shake. Blood vessels in your extremities
contract to prioritize major organs leaving you with cold fingers and toes and nose. These symptoms don’t alleviate awkwardness, they compound it. But that’s history’s fault. Long before human social dynamics
were complicated enough to involve “is it one kiss or two?” or politics at Thanksgiving dinner,
we developed primitive reactions to physical threats and haven’t had
enough time yet to evolve newer ones. Self-conscious anxiety can be tough to get out of our
minds after we’ve done something awkward. Fixating on social blunders is easy and hard to overcome. Why was I so unsure, so unconfident, so awkward? Well, some of the blame may lie with the neurotransmitter oxytocin. Oxytocin is sometimes called “the love hormone” because it modulates prosocial feelings, like trust and attachment, which it does. In fact, nasal sprays of oxytocin are being used to increase trust during couples therapy
and in the reduction of anxiety and depression. Though there are fears
that it could also be used to deviously increase trust and make a
person more susceptible to con artist schemes. But oxytocin also modulates negative social feelings like fear and anxiety. A dose of it makes people better at recognizing the
facial expressions for disgust and fright. It’s also involved in the
feelings that make us approach or avoid certain social stimuli. And it may play a role in making positive and negative social interactions more salient in our memories; that is, stand out more, command more of our attention after the fact, make us think about them more. Negative ones especially because of what psychologists call negativity bias. All things being equal, negative social interactions and negative emotions have a greater impact on our mental
states than positive ones. In fact, we have more words for negative emotions than positive ones and a richer vocabulary to describe them. Thus such memories and
thoughts can be tough to just get over. What does the other person think of me? I was so awkward. Are they telling other people?
We replace social encounters in our heads over and over again. Surely, the person we were awkward with
remembers us the same way we’re remembering ourselves
and is equally fixated on that awkward thing we did. Or are they? A great wet blanket for smothering the
fire of self-conscious anxieties is perspective.
Consider the famous advice of Eleanor Roosevelt: “You wouldn’t worry so much
about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” As much as you obsess over yourself, you’re not the
first thing on everyone else’s minds. They’re worried about themselves, what you think about them.
And, more importantly, what they think about themselves. You’re not the centre of their world. Another famous old piece of advice tells
us that in your twenties and thirties you worry about what other people think
about you. In your forties and fifties you stop worrying what other people
think about you. And then finally in your sixties and seventies
you realize that they were never thinking about you in the first place. The tendency to act and think as though you are the
true main character of the universe has been called protagonist disease. It seeps into our behavior all the time. For instance, the fundamental attribution error. When evaluating actions you often view yourself as a complex
character, acted upon by various challenges and antagonist, whereas other people are seen as just
one-dimensional background characters with simple unchanging roles. The guy who took way too long
ordering in front of you this morning, well, he’s obviously just innately annoying person. That’s his entire purpose.
But when you take too long ordering, it’s because the staff was unhelpful
or you were flustered, preoccupied by an earlier conversation. You are the main character after all.
You know a lot more about what’s going on in your life. It’s easy to live like that. There isn’t time or mental space to
consider every other person as complicated and fully flushed out.
But they are. The realization of this has a name.
A name given to it by The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, one of my favorite resources and now, YouTube channels. They wrap
profound concepts up in tiny little word packages. To be sure, giving something a name
doesn’t show that you know it or how to feel about it but nonetheless
words put handles on things, so we can manipulate them,
hold them down, offer them to others, feel bigger than the concepts they label. Now, their word for acknowledging that you are just an extra in other people’s stories,
not even cast in most of them, is ‘sonder’. This is their definition of it. “Sonder – the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated
with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness— an epic story that continues
invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might only appear once,
as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.” Acknowledging this makes your awkwardness looks small. But it also makes all of you look small. Tiny. A needle in a giant haystack, but nonetheless in possession of a big idea. Your blemishes are lost from far away, and so is your uniqueness, but the view from way up here… Well, it’s unbeatable. And as always, thanks for watching.

100 Comments

  1. Strength
    Catharsis
    Reality
    Exploration
    Acceptance
    Meaning
    Or SCREAM for short

  2. This is like the 4th Vsauce Video I ever watched in my entire life. All of them in Fall 2019. How the actual fudge did I miss out on this channel? Why the hell does it pop up now in my life and be like… there? Out if nowhere?

    Anyway, Micheal is incredible!

  3. Farting in front of your crush: [[wtf is happening now bruh f*ck]]

  4. He said cringe. 4 years a go

  5. This video is just a description of my life.

  6. my girlfriend gave me head while watching this, THANK YOU MICHAEL!!!

  7. One time, Someone was in a wheel chair at the grocery store that got there wheel caught on something, She said "hey can you help me" I walked over then I took there groceries and started walking before realizing.

  8. It's less awkward when your alone

  9. Vsauce: what is awkwardness? Why is it good? and who is the main character of the universe

    Me:wEll We jUsT WeNT tHeRE

  10. 1:18 CRINGE

  11. 0:03 up the zipper dude

  12. Me: our art style is influenced on what we like. I like drawing gory messed up stuff and I like Steven Universe.
    Random person on the street: unsettled tom meme

  13. His examples made me realize I do a lot of awkward things

  14. You forgot trying to communicate but either using the wrong words or getting so anxious about the thought of weather or not you're making any sense that you either talk too much or you stumble over your words and struggle to communicate properly.

  15. cringe

  16. EEE

  17. I LOVE THIS EPISODE!!!

  18. Why am I being attacked?

  19. I love that you put the beach scene in there. Awk-ward.

  20. Ok

  21. Vsauce is the modern day Alan Watts

  22. Am I really the only one to notice that in the opening shot his pants were unzipped. And it WAS on purpose because they are in the next shot. GENIOUS!

  23. What is awkwardness? Why is it good for us? Who is…

    the main character of the universe?

  24. On my way to the CEO of awkwardness…

  25. 1:18

  26. nobody:
    not a single soul:
    vsauce: who is the main character of the universe?

  27. Dude. My constant butterflies in the stomach feeling just vanished after watching this

  28. You may just be a spec of the universe, but you’re my whole world.

  29. Video title: the science of awkwardness
    Micheal like 2 seconds into the video: who is the main character of the universe

  30. "Enjoy your movie"

    Do I even need to say more?

  31. Watching this reminded me of episode 2 of black mirror where the guy was talking in the black box to ppl watching. When it ended I was wondering if the room around him was completely white and he just sits around looking at fake backgrounds on his window wall

  32. Hey Michael from Vsauce, what do you think about the new overwatch trailer? 1:18

  33. Wow, amazing

  34. For some reason, after some encounter with akwardness or something related, I always repeat what I said during the conversation. As if I'm reliving it, reliving the akwardness. I hate this

  35. The ending was confusing… why were there 3 people in what looks like a desert holding surf boards…. wtf…

  36. “Cringe.” – Vsauce Micheal, 2015

  37. Another common occurrence of VLSTP:
    Vsauce
    Likes
    Stacking
    Typography
    Phenomenon

  38. there are plenty of existing words for the people that have no consciousness about their double standards. Frankly, this is a huge turnoff to even want to be around people. I wish we would have a day where people had to realise and admit they are demanding crap they would not like themselves.

  39. make mario farts 2

  40. I am 22 an I already realized that people dont think about us as much as think they do, but i am awkward

  41. Awkwardness can be cured by calling out your weirdness. Shaking hands when a dude wants to fist bump can go like this "that's our new handshake from now on" and laugh, easy.

  42. Thank you Michael we miss you

  43. 14 year old girl who thinks she has depression: You wouldn’t get it

  44. 4:40 anime.

  45. Just realized that's his wife

  46. I never heard of the work Sonder until now. Makes me realize how selfish and self centered I am.

  47. I actually like being awkard

  48. OMG, that hot girl I like just walked past and saw that I was watching this…

  49. This video helped me with my social anxiety. Knowing that people literally don't care how you come off as because they're thinking about themselves. That makes me feel better. Thank you Vsauce!!

  50. I needed this video earlier

  51. if i smell a fart that is not mine in a elevator
    i would let a even bigger fart

  52. Holy shit!

    I don't feel awkward, so I must have no empathy. My personality is also, apparently, an ENTJ. That…feels wrong? Anybody got an answer?

  53. Its me 😭😭😭I AM NOT ALONE.😂😂😂😂DAMN.GOD.How have i watched this video till now.It explains how i have lived my Life.Whole 18 years.

  54. As an INFP, we are hella awkward, but one thing we specialize in, is being 'sonder'. so it did feel weird to me watching the last part of the video thinking 'why the hell would anyone think of others as incomplex beings? why would they be constantly thinking about an awkward situation they had with me? who the f am i to be the center of their mind?' i mean, awkward situations hunt us for years, but at least, we think very realistically about the thought process of others while in these situations and their aftermath, we can understand facial expressions very well and create a not so vague idea about the other's perspective on situations. i do believe we can somewhat predict others thought process just to be able to act accordingly in various scenarios, for you reading this, it may seem like a stupid thing to do, to waste your energy on examining what others think about situations and ideas, but for INFPs, it's vital for our existence.
    so.. any INFP person stumbles upon this comment?

  55. ꧁꧂

  56. When you say we have more negative words of expression then positive ones… I'm wondering if your looking outside your own culture when you assume such an assertion. Some cultures don't even have a word for depression so when you say we who are you talking about exactly?

  57. Is it my fault I’m awkward?
    People always say to me “stop being so awkward!” Like its my fault..

  58. "V" for reptile!
    All Truth blocked and mocked by this scumbag channel.

  59. i still think, even though im aware of everything said in this video, most of the people doesn't even deserve to breath.
    So its not about me being the main character, but more like others being fucking useful for society and for other people.
    People which the only reason to live is to make the gear of the clock working, doing the same things 24/7 for most of their life, never questioning things. and being happy with what others tell them to do :/

  60. What the fuck are these questions

  61. Damn he's a really good actor

  62. They knew about Biden

  63. thus video is one of the most underrated video in this channel

  64. I need to see a psychologist.

  65. True akwardness is when your walking in the hall while someone else is coming towards you so you stand your ground thinking they will move but they do the same thing so your both just standing there like. -_-

  66. I love making people feel awkward lol. Its funny to me. But tbh I think I've acted awkward so much now I can't control anymore and now I'm just actually awkward 😭😭😭

  67. That's why I do drugs.

  68. He made me feel useless

  69. R y calling brat fake?

  70. Borat*

  71. Mood

  72. The main character of the universe is whomever sees "press 'X' to run faster" pop up in their face when they get pulled over.

  73. Smoking weed and watching vsauce is the closest thing to heaven can offer

  74. Did he mean to have his zipper down at the beginning 😂 now that’s awkward

  75. I wonder if there's a name for feeling like the background character of everyone else's universe and not the protagonist. Something like… a Sonder complex. Where it's a bit like you're more worried about what others think of you, not because you think you're the center of the universe, but more so you're worried that the unimportant background character is all that you ever exist as.

  76. Explains why my soul was in pain when I see the worst type of cringe

  77. The answer to it all is… LETS MAKE AN PODCAST WITH STRANGERS

  78. I was in a show called Sonder and the definition was the first line! Such a cool concept

  79. 9:30

  80. 0:11 its pdp

  81. i dont know if his fly was supposed to be undone

  82. Thank you

  83. "Happy birthday"
    You too

  84. something that helps with my awkwardness is realising that no one really gives a shit about everything I do and it’s not as if there is a spotlight where people are watching my every move :))

  85. I fart in elevators.

  86. I wish I had seen this before I had my son. New mothers are given an oxytocin drip after childbirth here to encourage bonding with the baby but I found it very difficult to talk to the nurses while on that drip my husband did most of the talking that first night!

  87. Nobody:

    Michael: “ oh CRINGE

  88. Anyone else see that if you look at one of the blue lights in the background, the other 4 gray out a little?

  89. I'm mad akward brooo😤😤

  90. OMG! I really love this channel.

  91. 1:51 Don’t tell me what to do!

  92. You should be a science teacher

  93. His fly is down hehe

  94. Vsauces acting awkward is very realistic.. I would know lol

  95. Thank you, Micheal, I have horrible depression because I think about what others say about me all the time. This video gave me closure. Thank you.

  96. why did this video make me cry?

  97. 0:18 Sauced em pause when the girls hand is up

  98. his fly is down

  99. Me

  100. The camera man is definitely feeling awkward because he’s trying to walk away from Michael but he just keeps on approaching

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