Chapter 11: Negative Self-Conscious Emotions

Distinct Emotion Theory – Subjective Feelings

Table 7  lists the subjective feelings participants identify for each self-conscious emotion (Tangney et al., 1996).  Some subjective feelings overlap for shame and guilt.  A major difference between shame and guilt is that the subjective feelings of guilt encompass positive and negative emotions, whereas shame seems to elicit only negative emotions.  Similar to guilt, embarrassment also includes negative emotions associated with a temporary drop in self-esteem (e.g., looking foolish), but also positive emotions like amusement.  Keep in mind these subjective feelings could be part of the emotion experience or might occur directly after the self-conscious emotion.  For instance, if we accidentally pass gas in public, our initial emotion might be embarrassment, which is quickly followed by amusement and laughing at the self.

Table 7
Subjective Feelings Associated with each Negative Self-Conscious Emotion

A table showing a self-conscious emotion, and the related subjective feelings.
Self-Conscious Emotion Subjective Feelings
Shame regret, depression, immoral, disgust, anger toward the self, contempt, sadness, fear, hopelessness, embarrassment, shyness
Guilt regret, remorse, rumination/anxiety, disgust, anger toward the self, contempt, sadness, fear, hope
Embarrassment Foolish, stupid, awkward, less anger toward the self, amusement, joy, astonishment, shyness


The activation and arousal experienced with each emotion differs. In general, activation and unpleasantness are highest for shame and lowest for embarrassment (Tangney et al., 1996). Interestingly, even though participants reported the greatest arousal for shame, participants believed embarrassment caused the most physiological changes in heart rate and blushing. It may be that the blushing aspect of embarrassment biased participants’ reports. Some people think shame is the most intense because in shame people evaluate the entire self negatively, whereas in guilt people evaluate one specific behavior negatively.

Activation: Shame > Guilt > Embarrassment
Unpleasantness: Shame > Guilt > Embarrassment

Depending on the self-conscious emotion, subjective feelings may dissipate at different rates. Subjective feelings linked to shame last for the longest period of time, followed by guilt, and then embarrassment (Tangney et al., 1996).


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