Participant descriptions of guilt and shame

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<ul><li><p>Motivation and Emotion, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1983 </p><p>Participant Descriptions of Guilt and Shame 1 </p><p>Frank W. Wicker, 2 Glen C. Payne, and Randall D. Morgan The University of Texas at Austin </p><p>The purpose of this research was to see if naive raters could distinguish between guilt and shame in ways consistent with the descriptions of emotion theorists. In two studies, 152 participants recalled occasions on which they had experienced guilt or shame and rated these experiences on a large number of scales that represented either basic dimensions of emotion or attributes previously postulated to differentiate between these two emotions. Shame and guilt situations differed on a number of attributes, including felt powerfulness, self-control, self-consciousness and exposure, activity, inferiority, surprise, alienation from others, facial sensation, self- attribution o f justice, and expectation of punishment. Many commonalities in the meaning of the two concepts were also suggested, most importantly in terms of basic attributes such as pain, tension, and arousal. Results were consistent with several previous accounts of the essential differences between guilt and shame, but not with all such descriptions. </p><p>In this research we were concerned, first, with attempts to establish criteria for differentiating the emotions of guilt and shame. The issue is relevant for mental health professionals. It has been claimed that a clear differentiation of these two terms could greatly facilitate our understanding of the dynamics of neurotic symptoms as well as of general emotional development (Lewis, 1971; Piers &amp; Singer, 1953). A second concern of this research was with whether "naive" raters would distinguish between guilt and shame in the same ways as the professionals who have written on this distinction. </p><p>1The authors would like to thank Maria Emanuele, Sang Min Lee, Joe Kahler, and Frank Lambert for their assistance with this study. </p><p>2Address all correspondence to Frank W. Wicker, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78712. </p><p>25 </p><p>0146-7239/83/0300-0025503,00/0 1983 Plenum Publishing Corporation </p></li><li><p>26 Wicker, Payne, and Morgan </p><p>Achieving precise, agreed-upon definitions is one of the difficult on- going tasks for emotion theorists. Over the years there has been consider- able disagreement about the meaning of emotion terms, and guilt and shame have not been exceptions. Some authors appear to have used the two terms almost interchangeably, others have treated them as but different aspects of the same underlying emotion, while others have taken pains to pinpoint what they see as the essential differences between them (Izard, 1977). </p><p>Many differences have been proposed. There has been some overlap of opinion among theorists, even though agreement is by no means universal. In general, guilt is said to follow from acts that violate ethical norms, principles of justice, feelings of responsibility, religious codes, or moral values, whereas shame follows from acts that lack propriety, appropriateness, or adequacy. Piers and Singer (1953) proposed that violations of the limits of the superego produce guilt, whereas failure to live up to the ego ideal produces shame. The two emotions are then opposite in the sense that in one case (shame) a goal is not reached, while in the other case (guilt) a boundary is exceeded. </p><p>Somewhat suprisingly, it has been argued that shame is the stronger emotion, perhaps because ego ideals can be more basic or powerful than the prohibitions of conscience (Lynd, 1958). Lynd asserts that shame is more likely to be a diffuse feeling involving the whole self, even though the occasion for shame may appear slight to the unemotional observer: "Men blush for their crimes much less than for their weaknesses or vanity. "3 Shame is said to be a greater threat to self-esteem and personal identity (e.g., Izard, 1977; Lynd, 1958). Pride is therefore "the shield against shame" (Tomkins, 1963, p. 133). </p><p>Numerous proposals imply that shame is more overpowering or inca- pacitating. It is incongruous, surprising, and bewildering (Lynd, 1958); it causes one to lose control, to feel powerless and externally controlled (Erikson, 1963); it destroys our ability to think logically and act efficiently (Darwin, 1872; Lewis, 1979); it destroys our trust in ourselves and everything else (Lynd, 1958). The "objective" character of guilt, on the other hand, and the accompanying feeling of personal responsibility, should lead to active, self-controlled attempts to restore or make amends. </p><p>Likewise, it is claimed that shame will be more often accompanied by heightened self-consciousness, self-imaging, and a "sense of exposure" (e.g., Erikson, 1963; Lewis, 1971). This self-consciousness is described as a two-edged sword: It involves (1) greater focus on the self 4 but also (2) </p><p>3Quoted by Lynd from Pere Goriot, by Honore de Balzac. 4Lewis (t971) argued that the direct object of shame is the self, whereas the direct object of guilt is the thing done. </p></li><li><p>Ratings of Guilt and Shame 27 </p><p>greater concern with "others" who are observing and evaluating. In support of point 2, Lewis (1979) emphasized the dependency of shame on caring for the evaluating other and on "the vicarious experiences of other's negative evaluations" (p. 381). To Ausubel (1955) shame may be a component of guilt involving external sanctions and evaluations rather then independent self-reactions. Sartre (1956) proposed that the way one appears in the eyes of others is more basic to shame than the way one appears in one's own eyes. There is some disagreement, however, about whether such other- orientation is more characteristic of shame than of guilt. Lynd (1958) stated that it is the exposure of oneself to oneself that is crucial in shame; Rawls (1963) argued that closeness to others intensifies guilt too; and De Rivera (1977) proposed that guilt and shame are both reactions to an implicit other. Piers and Singer (1953) maintained that shame may be internalized and guilt may have an implicit audience. </p><p>If closeness to others is a more important antecedent of shame, it is possible that alienation from others is a more likely consequence of the pain that comes from exposure to their negative evaluation. Thus, shame may be more of an isolating experience (e.g., Lynd). </p><p>Corresponding to these differences are differences in the predicted consequences of the two emotions. With guilt one expects punishment and attempts to get forgiveness, to restore prior relationships, to confess, to atone. With shame one expects abandonment and attempts to change the self, to hide, or to run away (Morris, 1971). </p><p>Several authors have suggested that guilt is more long-lasting, because it does not subside until reconcilation, because it may be followed by laborious attempts to sort out the ethical issues involved, and because it may be sustained by unconscious gratification from the implicit self- statement "I am still a good person because I feel guilty about what I did" (e.g., Lewis, 1979). </p><p>Kemper (1978) discussed emotions in terms of a model emphasizing felt power and felt status. One of his suggestions is that guilt tends to occur when one senses that one has too much power, and shame occurs when one senses excess status. </p><p>Differences related to bodily expression and bodily awareness have been proposed. It is said that one blushes in shame and feels a hot face, but the guilty face is heavy. There is a greater bodily awareness in shame and less distinctive facial expression in guilt (Izard, 1977). </p><p>PRESENT STUDY </p><p>The present study was an attempt to get untrained observers to tell us whether the terms guilt and shame mean different things to them and to </p></li><li><p>28 Wicker, Payne, and Morgan </p><p>compare their descriptions to those in the literature. So stated, this appears to be asking too much of naive observers. The method employed in this study, however, is based on the assumption that "people usually find it easy to tell the difference between these two emotions in their personal experiences [even though] they may not find it easy to describe the differences" (Izard, 1977, p. 422). Participants were asked to recall a previous experience in which they had felt each of these emotions and to rate the experience on several scales. The scales were based on the hypothesized differences reviewed in the above introduction. Thus, subjects were required only to select and rate particular emotional experiences, but average ratings of the two types of experiences could then be compared? This approach is consistent with the prototype theory of concept forma- tion, the view that real-life concepts often "have fuzzy boundaries but ideal examples" (Wickelgren, 1979, p. 297). We assumed that even though our subjects could not give formal definitions of emotion concepts in terms of attributes and rules, they could recall representative exemplars or prototypes that could then be rated, one attribute at a time. Recalled prototypes should be ones that have much personal significance for them, so their ratings may be helpful in the search for a clear differentiation of guilt and shame. </p><p>EXPERIMENT1 </p><p>Method </p><p>Subjects. Thirty-one students of introductory educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin participated in this study. Such par- ticipation was one of their options for meeting a research requirement in the introductory course. </p><p>Materials and Procedure. Subjects worked in groups of eight or fewer in a small laboratory room. Upon entering, they were given a rating booklet, which they were not required to sign. At the top of each page of the booklet was a noun indicative of an emotion. Six such nouns were presented in a randomly different order for each subject: Guilt, Shame, Fear, Anxiety, Hope, and Serenity. For each noun, subjects were asked to recall an event in their own experience and to write a brief description of that event in a space provided under the noun. If they felt uncomfortable about describing a particular event, they were allowed to write cryptic notes, write </p><p>5This approach is similar to use of the Differential Emotions Scale by Izard and his colleagues. </p></li><li><p>Ratings of Guilt and Shame 29 </p><p>descriptions on a separate blank sheet that they could take away with them, or write nothing at all. Next, they rated the recalled experience on each of 34 9-point rating scales. Scales had been chosen in the attempt to represent feeling, evaluation, motivational-, and situational-appraisal aspects of emotion, and to reflect dimensions emphasized by the theoretical differentiations of guilt and shame discussed earlier. Ratings were given by checking one of nine spaces on bipolar scales. The scales, anchored by contrasting expressions such as I felt pain versus I felt pleasure, can be seen in Table I. It was emphasized that a neutral value on this underlying dimension was to be represented by the fifth space on the scale. If subjects could not recall an appropriate experience, they were asked to imagine one, and to rate all experiences on all of the scales. They were encouraged to work rapidly but accurately. Instructions also included an explanation of some of the more difficult scales. </p><p>For approximately half the subjects, scales were presented in the order given in Table I. The left-right orientation of anchoring points and the order of presentation of the scales were reversed for the other half. </p><p>Results </p><p>Table I gives means and standard deviations for Guilt and Shame on each scale. For descriptive purposes, a t test was computed to compare each mean to the constant neutral value of 5 (McNemar, 1955, pp. 107-108), and the resulting significance levels are indicated with each mean. F ratios for comparisons between Guilt means and Shame means are presented only where p &lt; .10. Table I suggests more similarities than differences between the images evoked by these two nouns, but there are suggestive differences too. Both guilt and shame situations were judged as painful, tense, arousing but inhibiting, and novel but not imaginary, with a known cause. People felt they should be punished because they had done the wrong thing, even an unjust thing, and were not living up to their ideal. Although their lives had previously been going very well, they now felt conflicted, self- conscious, and lacking in self-confidence. With heavy faces they anticipated the frowns of others. Note, however, that even though both situations produced a self-conscious or "exposed" feeling, the shame situation produced it to a higher degree, along with a greater tendency to feel low power, low status, lack of control, and passivity (although raters expressed activity in the guilt situation more clearly than they expressed passivity in the shame situation). Two marginal differences, indicating greater sub- missiveness and less self-confidence with shame, are consistent with this general picture of greater helplessness in the shame situation. The two emotions were not different in terms of concern with other-evaluation </p></li><li><p>Ta</p><p>ble</p><p> I. 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