A growing body of research has identified the important role of shame and guilt in regulating human social behavior. Past research has discovered that shame and guilt are often evoked by similar circumstances, yet these emotions are clearly distinct. For example, whereas guilt appears to facilitate smoother social interactions and psychological adjustment, shame prompts feelings of self-consciousness and a desire to withdraw from social encounters. Although existing research on shame and guilt has focused on the experience of these emotions as it occurs after people have committed a blameworthy action themselves, almost no research has examined factors that predict when people experience shame or guilt for actions carried out by other individuals. The proposed research will test a model of vicarious shame and guilt that integrates current understandings of self-conscious emotion with theoretical perspectives on social associations to predict what types of associations make individuals susceptible to vicarious shame versus guilt for the actions of others. The perceived essentiality of one's association to a wrongdoer is predicted to intensify reactions of vicarious shame and distancing responses, whereas one's level of interpersonal interdependence with a wrongdoer is predicted to intensify reactions of vicarious guilt and efforts to repair any damage done to a victim. A series of 14 experiments will manipulate the type of association participants have to an individual who commits a wrongdoing and examine the effects of these manipulations on participants' self-reported emotional reactions and cognitive appraisals, as well as their behavioral responses to both the wrongdoer and the victim. Because shame and guilt evoke such different behavioral reactions to events, the proposed research on vicarious shame and guilt promises to yield insights important for theories of intergroup and interpersonal behavior, as well as for theories of emotion.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Amber L. Story
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University of Southern California
Los Angeles
United States
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