Shame and guilt in children: Differential situational antecedents and experiential correlates


Department of Developmental Psychology, Vrije Universiteit, Van der Boechorststraat 1, 1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands (e-mail: T.Olthof or to Anneke Schouten, University Medical Centre, Department of Child and Adolescent Neurology, Sector Neuropsychology, P.O. Box 85500, 3508 GA Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Situational antecedents and experiential correlates of shame and guilt in children were examined by having 6-11-year-olds give ratings of the extent to which two types of situations would elicit a protagonist's feelings of shame and guilt. It was predicted that one type of situation should elicit both shame and guilt, because the protagonist caused harm to another person by behaving incoherently or incompetently. The other type of situation was predicted to elicit more shame than guilt, because the protagonist behaved incoherently or incompetently without causing harm to anyone. Two types of questions were used to elicit children's ratings: in term-based questions the emotion terms ‘guilt’ and ‘shame’ were used, while in correlate-based questions guilt and shame were alluded to by citing experiential correlates of these emotions. Children aged 9 and upward differentiated between both types of situations and between judgments of shame vs. guilt, both when giving term-based and when giving correlate-based ratings. There were no systematic differences in children's performance depending on whether they gave correlate-based or term-based judgments.