R02 - Tangney 1996 - Relation of Shame & Guilt to Constructive-Destructuv Reactions

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Lectura Seminar 9


Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1996, Vol. 70, No. 4, 797-809

Copyright 1996 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0022-3514/96/$3.00

Relation of Shame and Guilt to Constructive Versus Destructive Responses to Anger Across the LifespanJune Price Tangney, Patricia E. Wagner, Deborah Hill-Barlow, Donna E. Marschall, and Richard GramzowGeorge Mason University This study explored the relation of shame proneness and guilt proneness to constructive versus destructive responses to anger among 302 children (Grades 4-6 ), 427 adolescents (Grades 7- l l ), 176 college students, and 194 adults. Across all ages, shame proneness was clearly related to maladaptive responses to anger, including malevolent intentions; direct, indirect, and displaced aggression; selfdirected hostility; and negative long-term consequences. In contrast, guilt proneness was associated with constructive means of handling anger, including constructive intentions, corrective action and nonhostile discussion with the target of the anger, cognitive reappraisals of the target's role, and positive long-term consequences. Escapist--diffusingresponses showed some interesting developmental trends. Among children, these dimensions were positively correlated with guilt and largely unrelated to shame; among older participants, the results were mixed.

Anger is a universal human emotion. In the course of day-today life, people of all ages inevitably experience anger. What is not universal, however, is the manner in which children, adolescents, and adults manage and express their feelings of anger. Some people are inclined to aggress. In their fury, they lash out at those around them and take steps to "even the score." Others tend to hold their anger in. They stew over perceived injustices without directly expressing their ire, or they attempt to ignore, minimize, or distract themselves from their anger. Still others orient themselves in a constructive direction. They draw on their anger to make changes for the better, such as opening lines

June Price Tangney, Patricia E. Wagner, Deborah Hill-Barlow, Donna E. Marschall, and Richard Gramzow, Department of Psychology, George Mason University. Patricia E. Wagner is now at Hutchings Psychiatric Center, Syracuse, New York; Richard Gramzow is now at the Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (R01 HD27171 ). Portions of these results were presented at the August 1992 annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Washington, DC. We thank the many graduate and undergraduate students who assisted in various stages of the project: Tania Abi-Najm, Gayathri Adikesavan, Kauser Ahmed, Ruth Barrientos, Mary Bolton, Julie Kaplan Borenstein, Sarah Clements, Joe Constantin, Michelle Covert, Brit Creelman, Devra Dang, Robin Dold, Carey Fletcher, Laura Flicker, Marcelle Fozard, Dee Dee Atkinson Furr, John Gavlas, Alice Hansbarger, Bill Harman, Tricia Jacobsen, Christina James, Karen Johnson, Leslie Kirk, Conrad Loprete, James Maxfield, Natalie Migliorini, Tim Mohr, Julie Morig, Yvette Nageotte, Heather Phillips, Adam Rabinowitz, Diana Rodriguez, Karen Rosenberg, Tricia Roy, Karey Rush, Gary Russell, Provie Rydstrom, Veronica Sanchez, Jennifer Sanftner, and Siyon Yi for their assistance with the larger study from which this report was drawn. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to June Price Tangney, Department of Psychology, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia 22030. 797

of communication, resolving conflict, and setting things right. What accounts for these individual differences in anger-management strategies? What factors "tip the balance," allowing people to make constructive, as opposed to destructive, use of their anger? Some of our previous work on shame and guilt suggests that these moral emotions may play an important role in mediating the social consequences of anger. Shame and guilt are often cited jointly as two emotions that inhibit socially maladaptive behaviors, including aggressive responses. Our research, however, has underlined important differences in the nature and psychosocial implications of shame and guilt--differences that may well lead to contrasting modes of managing anger in everyday contexts.

P h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l Differences Between S h a m e and Guilt What is the difference between shame and guilt? Shame and guilt are both negative self-relevant emotions. People typically experience shame, guilt, or both when they behave in a manner they view as morally or socially unacceptable. Shame and guilt differ, however, in the ways in which such negative self-relevant events are construed (Niedenthal, Tangney, & Gavanski, 1994; Tangney, 1990, 1995). Moreover, it appears that such differences in the "framing" of events are related to quite distinct patterns of affect, cognition, and motivation, as indicated both by qualitative case study analyses (e.g., Lewis, 1971; LindsayHartz, 1984; Lindsay-Hartz, de Rivera, & Mascolo, 1995) and several systematic empirical studies of the phenomenology of shame and guilt (e.g., Tangney, 1989, 1993; Tangney, Miller, & Flicker, 1992; Wicker, Payne, & Morgan, 1983). When shamed, a person's focal concern is with the entire self. Some negative behavior or failure is taken as a reflection of a more global and enduring defect of the self. There is a painful scrutiny and negative evaluation of the entire self, with corre-


TANGNEY, WAGNER, HILL-BARLOW, MARSCHALL, AND GRAMZOW guilt (Tangney, 1992; Tangney, Marschall, Rosenberg, Barlow, & Wagner, 1994). In fact, anger and related direct and indirect aggressive responses were cited by relatively few adult and child respondents as causes of personal shame or guilt experiences, compared with other categories of failures and transgressions. A second possibility is that the experience of shame itself fosters feelings of other-directed anger and hostility. For example, from a series of case studies, both Lewis (1971) and Scheff (1987) have suggested that the acute pain of shame can lead to a sense of"humiliated fury" directly toward the self and toward a real or imagined disapproving other. As noted earlier, shame typically involves a very painful condemnation of the global self, coupled with an awareness of how the self would appear to others. Because shame involves this sense of exposure and disapproval from sources outside of the self, self-directed hostility is easily redirected out toward others involved in the shame-eliciting situation. Observing others may be held in part responsible for the ugly feeling of shame. In addition, Lewis (1971) has suggested that such other-directed hostility may serve a second, defensive function. In redirecting anger outside the self, shamed individuals may be attempting to regain a sense of agency and control, which is so often impaired in the shame experience. In this regard, it is interesting to note that Averill's (1982) studies of adults' everyday episodes of anger indicated that a common cause of anger is a "loss of personal pride" or a loss of self-esteem--very likely shame-related experiences. Finally, Berkowitz's ( 1993 ) notion of"aversively stimulated" anger and aggression is relevant here. As noted earlier, numerous empirical studies have indicated that shame is typically a more painful experience than guilt (Lindsay-Hartz, 1984; Tangney, 1989, 1993; Wicker et al., 1983). In his reformulation of the frustration-aggression hypothesis, Berkowitz proposed that negative affect, in general, fosters feelings of anger and the "instigation to aggress." Thus, from this perspective, it may be the pain of shame that accounts for its link with indexes of anger and hostility. In sum, there is now converging theoretical, clinical, and empirical evidence to indicate that shame may motivate not only avoidant behavior but also a defensive, retaliative anger and a tendency to project blame outward. In contrast, guilt has been associated with a tendency to accept responsibility and, if anything, with a somewhat decreased tendency toward interpersonal anger and hostility. Some question remains, however, about how shame-prone individuals are likely to handle their anger once they become angry. Among fifth-grade boys, shame was linked to teachers' reports of direct aggressive behavior as well as self-reports of anger (Tangney, Wagner, Burggraf, et al., 1991). But in a study of college students, shame was related to measures of anger, hostility, resentment, and indirect aggression but not to measures of more direct aggression (Tangney, Wagner, Fletcher, & Gramzow, 1992). This raises the possibility that shame-prone adults are prone to a seething, bitter, resentful kind of anger that they find difficult to express directly. Alternatively, the negligible links between shame and direct aggression may be an artifact of problems with the Buss-Durkee aggression scales used in the latter study. This warrants careful consideration because the Buss-Durkee measure was primarily designed to assess cogni-

sponding feelings of shrinking and being small. The shamed person feels, in the moment of shame, worthless and powerless. The self is impaired. Furthermore, because shame also involves a sense of exposure (before a real or imagined "audience"), there is a press to hide, to sink into the floor and disappear. In contrast, when experiencing guilt, a person's focal concern is with a specific behavior or failure, somewhat apart from the global self. There is a clear scrutiny and negative evaluation of the behavior, with a corresponding sense of tension, remorse, and regret over the bad act that was done. But the processes involved in guilt stop short of a generalization to the entire self. When feeling guilt, a person feels


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