Situations that triggers Shame, Guilt and Shame

  • Suellen Kong

Typical situations that entail having Self Conscious Emotion- Embarrassment, Guilt and Shame


The reason for this research was to recognize and differentiate the situations where members found embarrassment, guilt and pity and to research the self-conscious thoughts by evaluating unstructured questionnaire replies. Several psychology undergraduates from University of Warwick participated in this analysis. It was carried out giving them semi-structured questionnaires to complete. Within the questionnaires, there were three sections which were "embarrassment", "shame" and "guilt". These were asked to complete occurrences that they noticed or would feel these feelings and were given twenty minutes to complete the duty in silent. By analysing the reactions given, it was shown that members often felt humiliation using conditions like something happening in the general public, car accident or something they didn't have control over. It often happened in a less personal occasion. Whereas shame was associated with being received caught most likely when cheating and guilt was often related with personal affairs.


This study seeks to demonstrate the normal situations where people have the three feelings - humiliation; guilt and shame. Here are the some explanations of the thoughts: "Guilt can be an emotion that occurs when a person believes they have violated a moral standard that they themselves believe in. " (Wikipedia) "Embarrassment is an emotional state of intense uncomfortableness with oneself, experienced after possessing a socially unacceptable function or condition witnessed by or unveiled to others. . . . It is just like shame, except that shame may be experienced for an action known only to oneself. Also, embarrassment usually provides the connotation to be brought on by an act that is merely socially unacceptable, alternatively than morally incorrect. " (Wikipedia) History research mentioned that the three thoughts embarrassment, pity and guilt physique prominently in real human affairs. They are associated with communal and moral transgressions involve self-awareness, and motivate reparations for transgressions. (Keltner, & Buswell, 1996) (Ausubel, 1955; Goffman, 1956; Harre, 1990; Taylor, 1985; Wicker, Payne, & Morgan, 1983) Emotion is a subjective, conscious experience characterized mainly by psychophysiological expressions, biological reactions, and mental states. (Wikipedia) Results of earlier research are rather distinct, for the common reasons for being humiliated were: (1) Physical pratfalls;(2) Cognitive shortcomings;(3) Loss of control over your body; (4) Shortcoming in appearance; (5) Failure at privacy rules. For shame, they were: (1) Poor performance; (2) Hurting others mental; (3) Failing to meet other's expectation; (4) Disappointing in oneself; (5) Role-inappropriate behaviour. For guilt, they were (1) failures at obligations; (2) Laying; (3) Overlook of another; (4) Breaking a diet plan or exercise plan; (5) Cheating. They were the typical known reasons for experiencing those self- conscious thoughts (Keltner, Buswell, 1996).

Everyone has different thoughts, they are generally influenced from your feeling, personality, daily arousal and the circumstances we could facing. They could also be influenced by internal physical replies such as hormones and neurotransmitter. Within this research, were interested in finding out what causes having the self-conscious emotions (Embarrass, guilt and shame). As every individual are so unique, we have been intrigued to learn why the situations have caused them to have observed the same emotion. In the next research, we will identify situations that caused people to have such thoughts which is permitting us to get a better view towards self-consciousness and exactly how these increased understanding of that they feature in self-presentation in sociable interaction.


Participants. Several 6 psychology undergraduates (5 females, 1 man) aged 18-19 in College or university of Warwick participated in the study for the prep of doing a practical article. They were not volunteers or getting paid.

Procedure. In the analysis, members were received prepared consent at the beginning and were given a short semi-structured questionnaires which stated: "Please give three illustrations, writing two or three lines on each, if possible of occasions when you have believed or would feel embarrassment, pity and guilt. " Members were asked to describe the situations where they have got felt or would feel the three feelings in two to three lines presenting three good examples each. These were given twenty minutes to finish the whole task and were asked to do it in silent. It was an independent group design. Replies gained from each individuals were then analysed by the most frequently used vocabularies and the normal situations which were written down by the individuals. After the activity is completed, all participants were then debriefed at the end.


In this research, participants gave potential reactions for the emotions were always around certain subject areas. Within the "Embarrassment" section, individuals often explain the emotion of being embarrass just as (1) something which happens unexpectedly in the general public, (2) automobile accident or something they don't have control over. (E. g. being late. ) One example says: "I walked into a lecture late, entering from the bottom of the area (Physics Lecture Theatre) and there wasn't many seats left. I could feel myself warming up & I believed very ashamed. "Inside the "Shame" section, participants often felt pity in the next situation: (1) getting captured for something you have done unwillingly, (2) cheating or being cheated on. (E. g. exams, relationship) One example reads: "I noticed shame as i cheated by using an exam and acquired caught. " Within the last section, where participants explained their guilty situation, they were often personal experiences, some frequently the aftermath of things they have done wrong. "One Easter, my aunty bought us 3 Easter eggs, one per me, my brother and sister. I ate two of these whilst my buddy and sister was at university and when asked me easily ate it, I refused it and blamed it on my gran. " These were less stereotypical looking at to the situations in "embarrassment" and "shame". Amount of the responses given by participants are ranged, some of the responses were longer, more specific and using first person pronouns 'I' and providing autobiographic-like information of a particular occasion where they may have felt that specific sentiment while some of the members were just listing out stereotypical types of situations where the three emotions would be experienced.

Participants are often exclusively when experiencing shame situation, the incidents that brings about humiliation were often occurring before a sizable group of folks that they did not know or before the person/people that intended something to the individuals. Words that were often used to spell it out the embarrass situation were "in front of everyone"; "being late"; "schools"; "educators "; "strangers"; "family members"; "being laughed at"; "alone"; "awkward" and "silence". A large proportion of situations described by members that caused them to feel embarrass were often humorous and comic-like. When experiencing a shameful or guilty situation, phrases which were used to describe the incidents relatively familiar such as "got caught"; "they found out"; "being cheated on"; "ruined"; "accusing". Among the phrases that were used, "lied" and "lying" were most regularly on paper by members in both areas. Occasions that were being described tend to be personal encounters. (E. g eating behaviour) They were more serious conditions, more hassle and less stereotypical unlike the occasions distributed by the members in the shame section.


Results obtained from this study were similar to the outcomes of past research which supposed the research had been replicated. However, the task of the research must be criticised. Although members were wanted to complete the questionnaire in silence, participants were still chatting and speaking about their experiences jointly, when a few of the participants cannot think of any happenings, they tried to get help from other participants.

To improve the study, research workers should ensure members to complete the questionnaire within an individual time to avoid getting others responses as their own. Some individuals were expressing that they were confused about the thoughts of guilt and pity, it created problems when the reactions were being analysed as participants might have blended the feelings up and put the reactions the other way around. As a result, the vocabularies used to spell it out guilty and shameful situations are reasonably familiar. Researchers may need to put definitions of every emotion at the top of the questionnaire to make it clear to every participant to avoid this from happening again.

However, as this is a qualitative analysis, there was not much information gained as each event identified by the members were only written in 2-3 lines. Length of the responses are ranged, some are much longer than the other; some are just one-sentence responses. There was insufficient detail to totally understand what self-conscious thoughts.

The simple fact that only 1 male participant was used was also a restriction as there are always gender distinctions so it may not be possible to generate findings to the male people. However, there's a meta-analysis demonstrating that blanket stereotypes about women's increased emotionality are inaccurate. Emotionality of females and male shown gender similarities. (Else-Quest NM, Higgins, Allison, &Morton, 2012)


Keltner, D. , & Buswell, B. N. (1996). Cognition and feelings. Research for the Distinctness of Shame, Shame, and Guilt: A Study of Recalled Antecedents and Face Expressions of Feelings, 10 (2), 155-171.

Else-Quest, N. M. , Higgins, A. , Allison, C. , & Morton, L. C. (2012), Psychological bulletin. Gender distinctions in self-conscious mental experience: A meta-analysis, 138(5), 947-981.

(Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2013)

(Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2013)

(Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2013)

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