The Good and the Bad, or the Moral Emotions? Towards a Better Understanding of Guilt and Shame



What do people do when they experience shame or guilt? At present, literature cannot provide a clear answer to this question. On the one hand, shame and guilt are seen as moral emotions motivating cooperative behaviors to benefit society (e.g., Frank, 1988; Haidt, 2003; Smith, 1759). On the other hand, guilt is perceived as the good emotion, motivating reparative behavior towards the person one has hurt, and shame is perceived as the bad emotion, motivating withdrawal behaviors (e.g., Tangney, 1990, 1991, 1999; Wong & Tsai, 2007). These different theories offer distinct, and often contrasting, predictions on behaviors following guilt and shame. Empirical research does also not provide an answer, since there is hardly any empirical research on behaviors following shame and guilt, and the few existing studies have produced opposing results. The aim of the present research is to provide a better understanding of shame and guilt in order to predict and understand what people do when they experience one of these two important emotions. By using studies with different shame and guilt inductions and different social dilemma situations, I will reveal when and why shame and guilt motivate prosocial or approach behaviors. These findings make an important contribution to emotion literature and can play an important role in areas such as consumer research.
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Dr. B. Donkers