Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 118–139 | Cite as

Resolving the paradox of shame: Differentiating among specific appraisal-feeling combinations explains pro-social and self-defensive motivation

  • Nicolay Gausel
  • Vivian L. Vignoles
  • Colin Wayne Leach
Original Paper


Research has shown that people can respond both self-defensively and pro-socially when they experience shame. We address this paradox by differentiating among specific appraisals (of specific self-defect and concern for condemnation) and feelings (of shame, inferiority, and rejection) often reported as part of shame. In two Experiments (Study 1: N = 85; Study 2: N = 112), manipulations that put participants’ social-image at risk increased their appraisal of concern for condemnation. In Study 2, a manipulation of moral failure increased participants’ appraisal that they suffered a specific self-defect. In both studies, mediation analyses showed that effects of the social-image at risk manipulation on self-defensive motivation were explained by appraisal of concern for condemnation and felt rejection. In contrast, the effect of the moral failure manipulation on pro-social motivation in Study 2 was explained by appraisal of a specific self-defect and felt shame. Thus, distinguishing among the appraisals and feelings tied to shame enabled clearer prediction of pro-social and self-defensive responses to moral failure with and without risk to social-image.


Shame Rejection Inferiority Moral Pro-social Defensive 



The authors would like to thank the three coders of Study 1—Kristin Enge, Cristine Rekdal and Bodil Skåland. We would also like to thank David A. Kenny and the students and faculty at the International Graduate College, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, Germany, for their valuable comments and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicolay Gausel
    • 1
  • Vivian L. Vignoles
    • 2
  • Colin Wayne Leach
    • 3
  1. 1.Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Centre for Emotion ResearchØstfold University CollegeHaldenNorway
  2. 2.School of PsychologyUniversity of SussexBrightonUK
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA

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