In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

SHAME, as one of the self-conscious emotions, differs from what have been called the primary emotions because it comes about through self-reflection. While primary emotions require a self to experience the state (Lewis and Michalson, 1983), self-conscious emotions require a self both to produce the state and then to experience it. For example, a loud noise may put me in a state of fright. But to experience this state, I need to be aware of my state of fright. To be in a state of shame I must compare my action against some standard, either my own or someone else’s. My failure , relative to the standard, results in a state of shame. Once in the state, I may or may not experience it. To experience it depends on whether I focus my attention on my state. Again, this requires consciousness. Others have suggested that the state of shame can be produced in a more automatic fashion, one that does not require objective self-awareness. Consider the case of a 30-month-old child who has a bowel movement in his pants. We could assume that this event automatically causes a state of shame; that is, that there is some connection between the bowel movement and shame. Alternatively, we could think of shame as the consequence of what the child was thinking, either about the accident or about his parent’s response to it. In my work, I have focused on the latter explanation, because I believe that most examples of shame-eliciting events cannot readily be explained by an automatic process. Consider another example, this time involving adults. A man asks an acquaintance who claims to be well read if he has read Joyce Carol Oates’s latest novel. The well-read friend has not read the Oates book, but answers that he has read it in order to maintain his repSOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 70, No. 4 (Winter 2003) The Role of the Self in Shame MICHAEL LEWIS utation for being cultured. In other words, he lies so as not to be shamed by his lack of knowledge. Clearly, here the event leading to a state of shame has to do with how the second man thinks rather than with some automatic process. The confusion may reside not in the nature of the process but in the likelihood that some events lead to the state of shame more readily than others, perhaps because they are more likely to elicit specific thoughts than are others. Toilet accidents are more likely than knowledge gaps to lead to disapproval from others. The suggestion of prototypicality with regard to shame-eliciting events must rest on the assumption that certain events lead to a shame state because they are more likely than others to lead to shameproducing thoughts. But in most discussions these factors have remained somewhat confused. For example, Darwin’s argument illustrates the confusion. He believed that blushing could be produced in some automatic fashion by drawing attention to a particular part of the person: attention to the face would cause the face to blush. But Darwin also believed that blushing was caused by how we appear to others—as he put it, “the thinking about others thinking of us . . . excites a blush” (Darwin, 1965 [1872]: 325). His observation about blushing and shame indicates his concern with two issues: the issue of appearance and the issue of consciousness . In his model of blushing, the personal appearance of the individual and the consciousness that others were attending to it were the critical elements. Darwin repeatedly made the point that shame depends on sensitivity to the opinion of others, whether good or bad. Thus, self-conscious emotions require the organism’s own sensitivity. Even so, Darwin repeatedly returned to the point that shame is specifically related to external appearance . Darwin did not distinguish between embarrassment and shame, but he did point out that pride, admiration, and even disapproval can cause blushing! He was quite specific in this regard. Somehow, personal appearance, and not moral conduct, was what produced blushing. 1182 SOCIAL RESEARCH Darwin’s description of shame and guilt indicates that he saw them as distinguished by their eliciting events, although...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 1181-1204
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.