Second hand embarrassment also known as vicarious embarrassment refers to a feeling, arising as a reaction to witnessing embarrassing scenes or actions performed or lived through by somebody.
“Second hand embarrassment” is made possible by the empathy residing in all humans, which gives us the ability to understand and imagine the emotions and feelings of others.
It is reached by self-projection, as the viewer projects the reaction he or she considers appropriate in the embarrassing situation.
“Second hand embarrassment” became an extremely popular occurrence in comedy, in older shows and series, it was highlighted by the laugh track on cue, but over time, the genre of cringe comedy started taking over, with its silent pauses after awkward jokes and situations.
The most notable example for a cringe comedy show is The Office, running between 2005 and 2013.
“Second hand embarrassment” was first defined on Urban Dictionary in 2007.