„Cringe“ has won the vote for the “German youth word 2021”! We are excited to see growing interest in this concept, as it also addresses one research area of our lab for more than a decade.
Cringe is inextricably related to the social emotion embarrassment, addressing its experience on behalf of another. An earlier incarnation is the German “Fremdscham”, the Austrian “Word of the year” already back in 2010 🙂
As we experience embarrassment in the fear of others’ negative evaluation observing our public mishaps we can also empathically share the embarrassment of another while witnessing their blunders.
This hinges on the ability to represent social norms, take someone’s perspective and share others’ emotions. Similar to embarrassment it is an emotional compass for the alignment of the normative expectations between someone being exposed and observers.
More empathic people also show stronger vicarious embarrassment. Strictly speaking, it is not an empathic emotion since observers not always have similar emotional experiences as the one being exposed.
Cringe thus often arises when someone is completely unaware about violating the expectations of the audience or intentionally acts, without experiencing embarrassment on their own.
What glues it together is the mind game of thinking how it would be to act and feel as the one in the center of attention and the social & representative ties we have with others.
This has been picked up by cringe comedy. Depending on situational and personal factors, normative violations have different consequences for the observing audiences. How it is used in cringe humor affects the renegotiation of social norms.