Chapter 11: Negative Self-Conscious Emotions

Summary of Shame, Embarrassment, Guilt

Distinct Emotions Perspective views shame, guilt, and embarrassment as three separate categories of emotion. This means that the emotion component changes should discriminate between shame, guilt, and embarrassment. Currently, evidence exists for distinct facial expressions of shame and embarrassment, but not guilt. Cognitive appraisals research suggests that shame and guilt cause the same changes in cognitive appraisals. Findings on physiological changes showed that all three emotions cause increases in the SNS nervous system, but the amount the SNS changes might differentiate the three emotions. More work is needed in many of these areas.
Single-Emotion Theory suggests shame and embarrassment are different intensities of the same emotion and that guilt is not an emotion. This theory suggests whether we label our emotion as shame, embarrassment, or even guilt depends on two cognitive appraisals. The first is whether we PERCEIVE that we truly committed a violation/flaw. The second is whether we THINK about people have a good reason to conclude we committed a flaw. John Sabini passed away in 2005 (SPN obituary here) and much of the work testing single-emotion theory appears to have ceased.
Overall, theories offer different perspectives of embarrassment. The first perspective is often called “embarrassment as less intense shame.” This type of embarrassment would be elicited by small, specific failures, cause a negative self-evaluation, and feelings of unpleasantness. Single-Emotion Theory and Social Evaluation Theory fit with this perspective. Distinct Emotions theory also acknowledges that embarrassment is caused by small failures, but would disagree with the view of embarrassment as related to shame. The “embarrassment as exposure” perspective fits with the view that embarrassment is caused when we are aware that other people are focusing on the self. This view does not require a negative self-evaluation for embarrassment to occurs. This view allows for negative and positive eliciting events as causes of embarrassment. Distinct Emotions Perspective supports this view of embarrassment.
Finally, Distinct Emotions perspective views guilt as a negative self-conscious emotion that occurs when we perceive we committed a bad act, but we do not evaluate the entire self as bad. Distinct Emotions view does acknowledge that maladaptive guilt can turn into shame (CITE). Single-Emotion Theory discriminate between “being guilty” and “feeling guilty.” Being guilty is when we commit a violation. Guilty feelings are anything emotions that a guilty person feels. According to this view,

In the next section, we will take about two positively-valence self-conscious emotions – authentic pride and hubristic pride. At the end of the pride section, we will review evidence for universality in facial expressions of shame, pride, and embarrassment. To read about the evidence for universality now, please click here.


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Psychology of Human Emotion. by Michelle Yarwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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