Shame: Mechanisms of Activation and Consequences for Social Perception and Self-image

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: The aim of this thesis was the exploration of shame. Four experiments are among the very first to empirically test the validity of Tomkins' shame concept. The relation between internalized shame and memories of early interactions was examined, as well as Tomkins' concept of shame as an innate, momentary emotion. The influence of internalized shame as a personality trait on momentary shame emotion was also explored. Thirdly, how momentarily activated shame influences perception of self and others was studied. Finally, consequences of conscious versus unconscious shame activation was compared.Data from two survey studies implied that memories of ignoring and abandoning behaviors from mother are those that correlate most strongly with internalized shame. In the four experimental studies, internalized shame did not seem to influence momentary shame emotion, although two experiments implied different reactions to the praise that constituted part of the shame activating sequence depending on degree of internalized shame. Two experiments in part supported Tomkins’ notion of shame as a consequence of impeded positive emotion. However, participants with a high degree of internalized shame reacted with shame emotion to the praise feedback intended to elicit positive emotion. Therefore Tomkins’ concept of shame was successfully tested only with participants with a low degree of internalized shame. With this group, Tomkins’ conceptualization, however, received support. In addition these two experiments implied different processes for consciously versus unconsciously activated shame, since consequences for social perception and self-image following shame were reversed depending on whether the activating circumstances were conscious or not. The two subsequent experiments did not support the conclusions from the previous two, but gave some implications that shame activation, its consequences, and the effects of conscious versus unconscious activation are highly dependent on personal characteristics and social context.Taken together, data give some support to the validity of Tomkins’ shame conceptualization, but implies that it might be far too general, and that shame emotion might be primarily socially dependent.