The role of public exposure in moral and nonmoral shame and guilt

Richard H. Smith, J. Matthew Webster, W. Gerrod Parrott, Heidi L. Eyre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

339 Scopus citations


Although scholarly traditions assume that shame results more from the public exposure of a transgression or incompetence than guilt does, this distinction has little empirical support. Four studies, using either undergraduate participants' responses to hypothetical scenarios, their remembered experiences, or the coding of literary passages, reexamined this issue. Supporting traditional claims, public exposure of both moral (transgressions) and nonmoral (incompetence) experiences was associated more with shame than with guilt. Shame was also more strongly linked with nonmoral experiences of inferiority, suggesting 2 core features of shame: its links with public exposure and with negative self-evaluation. The distinctive features of guilt included remorse, self-blame, and the private feelings associated with a troubled conscience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-159
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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