guilt, shame, and adjustment in three cultures

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  • Person. individ. Difl Vol. 8, NO. 3, pp. 357-364. 1987 Printed in Great Britain. All rights reserved

    0191-8869/87 $3.00 + 0.00 Copyright 0 1987 Pergamon Journals Ltd

    GUILT, SHAME, AND ADJUSTMENT IN THREE CULTURES

    RONALD C. JOHNSON, GEORGE P. DANKO, YAU-HUANG HUANG,

    JONG YOUNG PARK, STEVEN B. JOHNSON~ and CRAIG T. NAGOSHI~ Behavioral Biology Laboratory and Department of Psychology, University of Hawaii,

    Honolulu, HI 96822, U.S.A., *Department of Educational Psychology, Taiwan Normal University, Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China,

    Computer Center, Hankuk University, Seoul, Republic of Korea, 4National Mandarin Center, Taiwan Normal University, Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China and

    Institute for Behavior Genetics, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, U.S.A.

    (Received 13 June 1986)

    Summary-While guilt and shame may form a second-order factor of sensitivity of conscience, they form relatively distinct first-order factors. A study of male and female subjects from the United States (Hawaii), the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) revealed a high degree of consistency across national groups in whether individual test items describing socially disapproved conduct loaded on guilt vs shame factors and also in the relative seriousness with which each of these lapses in conduct were viewed. In general, guilt was unrelated to neuroticism and negatively related to psychoticism while shame was positively related to neuroticism and negatively related to psychoticism. Cross-cultural similarities are substantial and call to question the belief that Asian and Occidental societies (at least the better educated segments of such groups) differ in the degree to which guilt vs shame are used as mechanisms for social control.

    A dominant theme of abnormal and of clinical psychology is one which states that persons who are psychologically troubled are persons who tend to inhibit their emotive behaviors; in particular, those which others might regard as antisocial behaviors. Campbell, speaking to this point in his American Psychological Association presidential address, said it certainly is my impression, after 40 years of reading psychology, that psychologists almost invariably side with self-gratification over traditional restraint (Campbell, 1975, p. 1120). Mowrer (1961, 1964, 1966, 1967, 1972) took the position that this dominant view of psychologists was totally in error. He argued (1) that well-adjusted persons who are not criminal, psychotic, nor neurotic feel the most guilt over violations of social norms, (2) that neurotics are less well socialized and feel less guilt, and (3) that criminals and psychopaths are least well socialized and feel the least guilt. From this position it would follow that therapeutic efforts aimed at reducing the guilt felt by neurotic or psychologically troubled individuals would have the effect of making them more similar to psychopaths, not to ostensibly normal persons.

    Mowrer, perhaps because of his own Calvinistic background (Mowrer, 1966), centered his discussion on guilt; from his point of view, normal persons were persons who felt considerable guilt following the commission of wrongful acts. In most of his writings he did not consider the possibility that persons varying in adjustment might vary more in resistance to temptation than in guilt following yielding, even though some of the empirical data he cited might be interpreted in this way. For example, Peterson (1967) compared 670 high school students with conduct problems (acting out, psychopathic behaviors), personality problems (neurotic behaviors), and with neither type of problem on scores on the socialization scale of Goughs California Psychological Inventory (Gough, 1960). He found conduct problems to be lowest in socialization scores, personality problems to be intermediate, and students with neither type of problem to be the most highly socialized. Whether being well socialized is associated with a lesser likelihood to commit antisocial acts, to feel more guilt after the commission of such acts, or both, cannot be ascertained from the Peterson data, even though Mowrer (1967) interpreted the data as supportive of his views regarding guilt.

    Johnson, Ackerman, Frank, and Fionda (1968) compared individuals on their resistance to temptation and their guilt following yielding, as measured by their completions of projective stories. They found that when subjects, who varied in adjustment or in mental health, responded to

    P.A ID 8,&E 351

  • 358 RONALD C. JOHNKIN et al.

    projective story stimuli involving moral dilemmas, they did not differ in the amount of guilt shown in their responses, but differed in amount of resistance to temptation; those who were more mentally healthy showed greater resistance. These results appear to be unsupportive of the majority view in psychology and, for that matter, are not greatly supportive of Mowrer, with his emphasis on the necessity for feeling guilt if one is to be well adjusted. The results raised a major question for the first author: If neurotics and more normal persons do not vary in guilt, why do clinicians almost universally believe that neurotics are excessively guilt-ridden? It seemed possible that the data might be wrong. The stimuli used by Johnson et al. were projective stories; resistance to temptation and guilt following yielding were measured from respondents story completions. Projective measures are time-consuming; Johnson et al. used only eight stories, yet participants often took nearly a full hour to complete these stories. This indicated a commendable degree of involvement on the part of respondents; nonetheless, there was a clear limitation on the number of socially disapproved behaviors that could be included as story themes. When one has only a few measures, one does not fritter away one of these on, say, a projective story with a theme having to do with cheating while playing a pinball machine (then common).

    Each of eight stories used by Johnson et al. had to do with a major moral dilemma. Therefore, while the results of the Johnson et al. study indicated that persons varying in adjustment did not vary in projectively measured guilt regarding major violations, they did not bear on differences in reaction to other domains of norm violation or socially prohibited behavior. It seemed necessary to obtain data having to do with wider domains of behavior.

    Johnson and Noel (1970) began to collect items that included trivial as well as major behaviors, that were both private (not observed by or known by others) and public (known to others), and that encompassed both violations of laws, customs, and mores, and violations of interpersonal confidence and trust. These were obtained by having undergraduates provide lists of behaviors that would make them feel guilt or shame, plus using or adapting some of the items developed by or used by Crissman (1942), Rettig and Pasamanick (1959, 1960, 1961) Ewe11 (1954), and Mosher (1966). Johnson and Noels final Dimensions of Conscience Questionnaire (DCQ) scale consisted of 121 items of socially disapproved or socially gauche behaviors ranging from trivial (e.g. spilling food at a buffet dinner) to major (e.g. committing murder) lapses in conduct. Kido and Miyasaki (1972) worked on this scale, rewording some of the statements and discarding six of the items.

    The DCQ has been used by Winn (1973), Souza (1977) and Nagoshi (1980). Each item was rated by subjects in terms of how badly the subject would feel after committing the described act, with ratings varying from 1 (not at all bad) to 7 (as bad as I possibly could feel). Neuroticism was measured by the Eysenck Personality Inventory (Eysenck and Eysenck, 1968). All of these reports are of the responses of male and female subjects from a variety of racial/ethnic groups residing in Hawaii. The three sets of researches show comparable results. The reliability of the DCQ was very high. The relative degree of seriousness attributed to moral or social lapses was highly similar across sexes and racial/ethnic groups (r = f0.90). Factor analysis of DCQ items yielded more than two factors, but the first two were (by far) the most important ones. They consisted of items evoking (1) shame; embarrassment (basically, making a public fool of oneself), and (2) guilt; violations of interpersonal confidence and trust. Across sexes and ethnic groups, DCQ factor scores showed a highly significant, positive correlation of shame with neuroticism and essentially a zero-order correlation of guilt with neuroticism. A number of examples of these two kinds of items will be presented below. For now, here are several samples of each: Shame-Your home is very messy and you get unexpected guests; Spilling food at buffet dinner; Guilt-Allowing someone else to be blamed for something that you have done; Failing to help someone you know is in trouble when you could have been of help.

    Clinicians generally have felt neurotics to be excessively guilt-ridden; they usually hear their clients express negative self-regard in reference to behaviors that are trivial in magnitude of violation of the social contract. Major violations-those that form the core of morality-probably are far less frequent in occurrence. This may be why Johnson et al. (1968) found no differences in guilt between persons varying in adjustment-all their measures had to do with major moral issues, not common and trivial, socially gauche behaviors. Thus, neurotics may be typified as easily shamed (embarrassed) but not guilt-ridden. The recent report of Edelmann and McCusker (1986) included data showing that ease of embarrassment is positively correlated with neuroticism.

  • Guilt, shame, and adjustment in three cultures 359

    So far, this review of the literature has addre

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