How do you find out if your behavior is ‘socially acceptable’?
When you feel like you’ve been caught out by someone you’ve never met, what do you do?
That is the question posed by a new study that looks at how people feel about their perceived ability to be ‘straightforward’ in the face of adversity.
The study, published in Psychological Science, found that people who were less confident in their ability to ‘deal with social discomfort’ tended to feel less comfortable with the task of admitting guilt.
But it also found that this feeling of ‘sensitivities’ had a clear negative impact on the way people felt about their own ability to deal with social awkwardness.
“A more nuanced understanding of how people’s cognitive dissonance plays out in everyday life is critical to addressing the challenges of combating and overcoming this kind of social discomfort,” study co-author Kristina A. Johnson, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, told The Huffington Post.
The research was conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and Northwestern University, and published on June 9 in the journal Psychological Science.
“We wanted to see if cognitive dissonances are an important mechanism for coping with social distancing, or if there’s something else going on,” said Johnson.
The researchers used a series of questions designed to gauge how well people could handle social discomfort.
In the first study, the researchers asked participants to rate how comfortable they felt with their ability in two scenarios: a situation in which they felt uncomfortable at the person they were talking to and a situation where they felt comfortable, but not at the individual they were speaking with.
They then asked the participants to compare the two scenarios, noting that in the first situation, they felt “very uncomfortable” and in the second, they “felt very comfortable.”
They then had the participants complete a questionnaire assessing how they felt about the two situations and their ability with the two social situations.
“It turns out that social distanced people are less comfortable than social desensitized people,” Johnson said.
“They have a negative bias toward dealing with discomfort, which is likely to be related to a sense of self-worth.”
“There is some evidence that people are more sensitive to social discomfort when they feel more comfortable,” she continued.
“So when people feel more uncomfortable, they are less likely to respond positively to a situation that is perceived as more uncomfortable.”
In another study, researchers asked more than 1,000 college students to complete a series “social distancing” tasks.
The participants were asked to rate the comfort they felt in various situations.
For example, they were asked “Do you feel comfortable when you feel uncomfortable with someone?”
They were then asked, “Do I feel uncomfortable when I feel comfortable with someone else?”
The results showed that people perceived more discomfort in situations that involved others “sociually distancing.”
But there was also evidence of the effect being even more pronounced for situations in which the individuals felt less comfortable themselves.
“Social distancing can lead to negative psychological and social outcomes,” the study concluded.
“For example, socially distancing causes people to feel more anxious, more anxious about their ability, and less happy about their life.”
The study is the latest in a series to show that the way in which we experience social discomfort has a direct impact on our ability to cope with it.
In a 2010 study, psychologist James C. Gagnon found that when he was asked to explain why he felt uncomfortable, he had a tendency to say things like, “I am not comfortable, so I can’t do this,” or “I do not like what I see, so that is what I am doing.”
But the study also found some evidence to suggest that people tend to feel socially isolated in the presence of others, which could lead to a greater sensitivity to social distressing situations.
In an interview with ABC News, Johnson said that although cognitive dissonant people are often the ones feeling the “negative feelings,” the effects on how they feel and how they respond to social distress could be a combination of the two.
“The effect of social distance on people’s perception of their own abilities is potentially even more subtle,” Johnson explained.
“This means that we may be seeing the effect of cognitive dissonancy on how people perceive their own capabilities and capabilities of others.”
Johnson said it’s possible that social distress is the “opposite of social isolation,” and the effects of cognitive discomfort on our perception of ourselves could be the opposite.