The privacy that comes from buying things online allows people to purchase all kinds of things they normally wouldn’t, right? Not quite. In some cases, buying something online can make you try even more strenuously to avoid the purchase in future than you would if you bought it in public.

Online purchasing lets people buy all sorts of things they usually wouldn’t, like bigfoot erotica. And being able to hide one’s purchases certainly ought to eliminate embarrassment for consumers, by keeping them from having to expose their purchases from the public eye. A new study found that, in certain cases, people’s embarrassment levels definitely do drop with online shopping. When surveyed, a group of men purchasing viagra found that, overall, it was less embarrassing to buy viagra online than in public—but not all of the men felt the same drop in embarrassment. Some of the men were purchasing the drug to overcome medical sexual problems, and some were buying for recreational use. The recreational users felt, by far, the biggest drop in embarrassment when they bought their viagra online.

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Since they’re both equally anonymous, why should one group feel a bigger drop in embarrassment than the other? The answer could lie in another part of the same study. A group of people buying over-the-counter medication for incontinence recorded how they embarrassed they felt when they were buying the medication publicly, and when they were buying it online. The authors found no significant difference in embarrassment intensity. In public, people tended to have a physical reaction—sweating, getting red in the face, and wanting to leave the store.

However, the study authors believe that, even in private, certain actions lead to a situation where “one appraises oneself and violates one’s self-concept.” Even when no one is there to see you do something embarrassing, it’s still embarrassing, because it punctures your picture of yourself. The fact that you’re doing it online, at home, might make that puncture harder to repair. What the study authors found was that this self-appraisal caused people to make more careful plans to avoid the situation in the future. According to the researchers, “Participants’ desire to escape an embarrassing situation for in-public context suggests that simply removing oneself from the situation makes the negative emotions dissipate.” Once you’re out of the store, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. When you’re in private, there’s no way to alleviate that feeling. You just stew in your own embarrassment and vow not to do it again.

Personally, even knowing this, I would prefer to purchase all my embarrassing products in private. What about you?

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[Source: Wetting the bed at Twenty-One]

Image: Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine