Karaoke gives clues to embarrassment, brain function

By Shayna Brouker • Published: July 15th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Visit a karaoke bar and you’ll witness two types of singers: Those who take the stage like a songbird and belt out a Grammy-worthy solo, and those who unabashedly warble a version of the song that sounds similar to a dying cat.

Most people tend to fall into the latter group. A new study from the University of California at San Francisco and the University of California at Berkeley found insight into the way our brains process embarrassment after analyzing participants who watched a video of their own karaoke performance.

The scientists discovered that healthy people were appropriately embarrassed. Their heart rates increased, their blood pressure jumped and their breathing quickened as they watched themselves croon “My Girl” by the Temptations.

But the other half of the subjects, who suffered neurological damage in a particular region of the brain appeared much less concerned about their recital.

The thumb-sized piece of tissue, located in the front part of the brain, is responsible for the kind of mortification that can only result from a karaoke flop. The smaller the region, and the more damaged the region surrounding it was, the less humiliation the participants felt.

The findings present a step forward in research examining frontotemporal dementia. The temporal and frontal lobes of the brain play an important part in decision-making, behavior, and understanding and expression of emotion and language, including complex emotions like embarrassment.

Researchers hope that understanding the neurological function of emotion will help doctors and caregivers sense subtle emotional changes and catch dementia earlier on.

And as for that flushed face and those damp armpits that accompany your stellar rendition of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”? At least now you know it’s all in your head.