An Empirical Investigation of the Adaptive Nature of Shame
Throughout the empirical psychological literature on emotion, the general consensus is that shame is maladaptive, while guilt is the adaptive moral emotion. Conversely, evolutionary psychology concludes that all emotions serve adaptive functions. Specifically, shame serves an appeasement function in social relationships. In order to investigate the true nature of shame, the current study used an experimental design. Specifically, a 2 (high shame, no shame) X 2 (high guilt, no guilt) design with a no-mistakes control group was implemented, and shame and guilt were operationalized through an evolutionary lens (i.e., shame as a nonverbal display, guilt as verbalizations of apology). Participants (n = 110) were told they would be assisting psychology faculty members with interviewing candidates for a research position. During the interview, the candidate made three mistakes, and showed shame and/or guilt according to the 2 X 2 design. Participants then rated how well the candidate performed. Results were analyzed using a 2-way ANOVA and independent samples t tests, and it was found that participants rated the candidate more favorably in both shame conditions. Importantly, there were no significant differences between those participants who viewed the candidate who made no mistakes (control condition) and those that viewed the candidate showing shame after multiple mistakes. Thus, apparently saying "sorry" is not quite enough.
School:Utah State University
School Location:USA - Utah
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Keywords:affect appeasement emotion evolutionary psychology guilt shame
Date of Publication:05/01/2009