Shame: Mechanisms of Activation and Consequences for Social Perception, Self-Image, and General Negative Emotion


  • Thanks to Charlotte Andersson and Helena Genberg-Bingham who served as experimenters.

concerning this article may be addressed to Katja Claesson, Licensed Psychologist, Department of Psychology, Uppsala University, P. O. Box 1225, S-751 42 Uppsala, Sweden, E-mail:


ABSTRACT In two experiments we explored Tomkins's (1963) concept of shame, comparing conscious versus unconscious shame activation. In line with Tomkins' theory, an impeded positive feedback sequence, consciously or unconsciously perceived, elicited more shame than continuously negative feedback. This was, however, true only for participants with an initially low degree of internalized shame. Participants with a high degree of internalized shame unexpectedly displayed shame following the positive feedback intended to elicit positive emotion. Whether this has implications for Tomkins's theory or rather for methodological issues is discussed. Exploring consequences of shame for social perception and self-image, we found reversed results depending on level of consciousness. Effects were consistently greater for women, although at marginal significance levels. Results partly support Tomkins's notion of shame, but imply that his theory might need modification in terms of the role played by consciousness and, possibly, by individual differences such as sex and shame proneness.