That Was Awkward…

in Arts + Media, Pop Culture
October 22nd, 2012

WHEW! Nothing like drawing inspiration from some late-night Youtube videos! Especially when my editor has to: 1) Make sure that this post is indeed relative to neuroscience 2) Verify that I’ve used proper grammar 3) Make media changes such as share links etc. 4) And have all of this done within a few hours during which I’ve procrastinated until the midnight hours of the new work week. Apologies to my editor…but man, am I pumped for what I’ve got in store with this post! Let’s get started shall we?

The cream of the awkward crop

Who doesn’t love awkward situations? Well, actually, most people probably don’t like awkward situations. But why…I tend to find it hilarious when there is so much discomfort in a room that it can be cut with a knife. In my opinion, that’s what makes “awkward” so exciting. It’s a moment where everyone is out of their comfort zone, nobody is safe, nobody can run and hide, and often nobody knows what to do. For example, consider the harmonious situation when the distraught, balling girlfriend confronts her cheating boyfriend.

Prior to the confrontation, everyone is trying to enjoy themselves, stirring up social conversation via the flow of cheap beer and mixed cocktails. The music is playing, the light machine is making a twenty dollar attempt at adding ambiance, and the owner of the apartment is wondering how their casual get together turned into “GET OUT, I don’t know you!” Suddenly, the cord connecting the Ipod to the speakers is ripped out, the lights are turned on, and the fun begins. slogan The balling girlfriend confronts her cheating boyfriend in the middle of the dance floor, screeching “HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME!” Flabbergasted, the seemingly soon to be ex-boyfriend pushes the girl he is currently talking to away, bracing himself for the wrath of a broken heart. Meanwhile, everyone in the room has now entered ‘awkward,’ that unknown gap in time where indecision meets emotional response. Should we feel bad for her? Shouldn’t we look at his side of the story? Flashback to reality, where all of this is going on in everyone’s heads, leaving a dance floor filled with blank stares and no sudden movements. Everyone at the beer pong table has now focused their attention on the dynamic duo, while the ping pong ball continues its final bounces, having rolled onto the floor. And then, there is me. I’m in the corner of the room, literally dying of laughter inside, desperately trying to hold back tears of utter joy for this moment of awkward has once again proved itself to be entertainment gold!

Now where were we? Ahhh yes, awkward and neuroscience. There is an emotional response that is tied to any situation, and in return, this response directly effects our decision-making processes. In the initial moment before making a choice, we consider the risk and rewards associated with both options. For example, if I decide to study for an exam, my reward will be a good grade. What is so beautiful about awkward situations is that they stress the internal conflict of risk and reward to a higher degree due to emotional responses. In coordination with the basic neural circuitry that is active when making a decision, awkward situations bring to light the competing emotional responses that are associated with both social norms and self-subjective response. Consider the brilliance of Andrew Hales in this video:

Genius, right? The scientific breakdown behind most of the responses seen within the video is simple. When Andrew approaches the individual, as if he is going to high-five them, basic social cues are signaling neural circuity to respond, thus they accept Andrew’s social behavior and attempt to high-five him back. However, Andrew adds the awkward element into the situation by having his friend (the individual he actually wants to interact with) approach at the last minute, and more importantly, out of the view of the ‘random’ person. The coolest part about this is the reaction of the random person after they’ve found out that they were not suppose to be involved at all. The application of the cognitive strategies seen during this awkward emotion generation process is known as emotion regulation, which results in an alteration in the affective experience of emotional stimuli. Broken down, the competing emotional responses: wanting to satisfy the salient cues of Andrew (by reciprocating the high five) vs. emotional indecision (attempting to play it off as a joke) demonstrate the risk and rewards of social behavior. Pretty cool huh?

If you’d like to see more videos, definitely check out Andrew’s Youtube channel where you can see more awkward scenarios, like cutting people in line to loudly complimenting people. A personal favorite of mine is the Almost Picking Up Chicks video.


The Influence of Emotional Regulation and Decision Making – PMC

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