Chapter 11: Negative Self-Conscious Emotions

Vocal Changes

In 2009, Simon-Thomas, Keltner and colleagues sought to identify unique vocal expressions of shame, guilt, and embarrassment. Similar to the Cordaro et al. (2016) and Sauter et al. (2010) emotional stories were used.  But this time, participants were read the emotion term and corresponding scenario to define the emotion labels for participants (see Table 5). Then, participants heard one vocal sound and picked the correct emotion label out of 9 possible emotion labels and no option.  The 9 vocal sounds included anger, disgust, fear, sadness, surprise, contempt, embarrassment, guilt, and shame.

Table 5
Emotional stories utilized in Simon-Thomas et al., (2009)

A table showing an emotion and an emotional story to go with it
Emotion Emotional Story
Embarrassment Someone discovers that you have made a social gaffe
Guilt You know that you have done something (morally) wrong that has hurt another person
Shame You feel like you are a bad person

Below, tables 6 and 7 display the findings for basic and self-conscious emotions. For self-conscious emotions, a significant number of participants did not label the vocal sounds correctly.  For the embarrassment, guilt, and shame vocal sounds, 1/3 participants selected the label “no emotion!”  Looking further, for these self-conscious emotions, some participants selected the emotion sadness – which is fascinating!  So, whatever sounds were selected for shame, guilt, and embarrassment conveyed sadness to the participants.  Maybe these self-conscious emotions are simply sadness that we experience when we disappointment the self!

A few other interesting findings unreacted to self-conscious emotions.  Most participants labeled the fear sound (presumably a scream or gasp) surprise – and much work suggests that fear and surprise are often confused.  When participants heard a contempt sound they labeled this sound “no emotion.”  This parallels the CAD triad (Rozin et al., 1999) findings in which people also labeled community violations “no emotion,” instead of the correct labels “contempt.”

Table 6

For basic emotions, % participants who selected each emotion label for the vocal sound.

A table showing % of participants who selected each emotion label for the vocal sound..
Correct Label for Vocal Sound % Selected Each Vocal Sound (correct answer bolded)
Anger 79 Anger

6 Fear

Disgust 83 Disgust

6 No Emotion

Fear 46 Surprise

37 Fear

Sadness 64 Sadness

16 No Emotion

6 Shame

5 Embarrassment

Surprise 60 Surprise

17 No Emotion

12 Fear

Contempt 39 No Emotion

34 Contempt

7 Disgust

5 Surprise

5 Shame

Table 7

For self-conscious emotions, % participants who selected each emotion label for the vocal sound.

A table showing % of participants who selected each emotion label for the vocal sound.
Correct Label for Vocal Sound % Selected Each Vocal Sound (correct answer bolded)
Embarrassment 33 No Emotion

17 Embarrassment

11 Sadness

11 Shame

10 Guilt

Guilt 30 No Emotion

27 Sadness

15 Shame

14 Guilt

8 Embarrassment

Shame 31 No Emotion

27 Sadness

13 Shame

10 Guilt

8 Disgust

7 Embarrassment

6 Sadness

5 Contempt

No Emotion 39 Contempt

17 Surprise

16 Sadness

6 Disgust

In Cordaro, Keltner, and colleagues’ (2016) study on vocal change (review here), participants matched a story about embarrassment to a vocal sound. The story was “He/she is passionately singing his/her favorite song until s/he realized his/her friends were watching, and now s/he feels embarrassed” (Cordaro et al., 2016, Table 3, p. 121). The correct vocal sound for embarrassment was self-conscious laughter and a groan. All countries, including Bhutan, matched the vocal sound to the embarrassment stories at beyond chance levels. The lowest recognition rates were obtained in India (79%) and in Bhutan (about 43%).

 

Watch June Tangey on Guilt and Shame (recommended: beginning through 11:00)

 

 

 

Watch Dachner Keltner Discuss Embarrassment (recommended: beginning through 9:25)

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Psychology 425 by Michelle Yarwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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