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Antecedents of shame and guilt in self-control and harm

McGee, Darren Paul (2016) Antecedents of shame and guilt in self-control and harm. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.60954) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:60954)

Language: English

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There are three main theories of shame and guilt, each of which ascribe differing levels of social content to each emotion: the internal/external view, for example, posits that guilt is more internally located than shame, the act/person views posits the opposite, while the reciprocal/hierarchical view posits that these two emotions are both inherently social. A difficult challenge for these theories is that shame and guilt are both often felt in response to individual self-control failure.

Six studies examined the relationship between self-report measures of shame and guilt, and self-control failure (e.g., studying, dieting, and self-nominated goal failure), testing the assumptions of the three aforementioned theoretical distinctions. Overall, the internal/external theory was supported: shame was shown to be less internalised than guilt, which was shown to be characterised by two independent forms of internalised concerns. Remarkably, one of these internalised forms of guilt was characterised by relational concerns: participants, for example, would "feel betrayed" or "cheated" if they failed at their dieting (or other self-selected dilemmas). This hinted at the possibility of a social, albeit distal, form of guilt, that perhaps reflected an internalisation of social relationships.

To address this latter idea more directly, three studies examined the social nature of guilt (controlling for shame) in more objectively social contexts, involving harm related concerns. In support of the reciprocal/hierarchical theory, guilt was shown to be associated with interpersonal concerns while shame, consistent with the earlier six studies, was shown to be less internalised and associated with concerns relating to negative social comparisons.

In addition to the internal/external and reciprocal/hierarchical theories, some support was also found for the act/person theory. A nested model of shame and guilt was proposed to integrate these apparently disparate theories of shame and guilt: specifically, the internal/external theory was suggested to be a good proximal explanation of shame and guilt in self-control; the act/person theory was suggested to be a good explanation for the outcomes of shame and guilt; and the reciprocal/hierarchical theory was suggested to be a good ultimate explanation of shame and guilt overall.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.60954
Additional information: The author of this thesis has requested that it be held under closed access. We are sorry but we will not be able to give you access or pass on any requests for access. 04/05/22
Uncontrolled keywords: Shame, Guilt, Emotions, Self-Control, Social Psychology, Interpersonal Harm
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 17 Mar 2017 14:00 UTC
Last Modified: 04 May 2022 08:15 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

McGee, Darren Paul.

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