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Association between shame aversion and ruminative retribution: Evidence for moderation by externalization of blame and control


Shame aversion has been theorized to motivate aggression against the self or others as means of down-regulating shame. Additionally, the direction of aggression may depend on tendencies to attribute blame or causes internally or externally. Data from two separate samples were used to examine shame aversion and its interaction with causal or blame attributions in relation to aggression, controlling for shame-proneness, which is more commonly studied. Results indicated that shame aversion was positively associated with verbal, relational, and passive-rational aggression, as well as with ruminative retribution and non-suicidal self-injury, after accounting for shame-proneness. Most noteworthy, a significant two-way interaction indicated that the association between shame aversion and ruminative retribution (fantasizing about people getting their comeuppance) was particularly strong at high levels of externalization of blame. Findings therefore suggest that although shame-proneness may create situations in which shame regulation strategies are necessary, aggressive fantasies may be used as a regulation strategy when individuals have difficulty tolerating shame and blame others for their circumstances.

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These projects did not involve any source of funding. However, the third author was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (K23MH112889).

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Correspondence to Michelle Schoenleber.

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All procedures performed in these studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutions and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Schoenleber, M., Beltran, E., Peters, J.R. et al. Association between shame aversion and ruminative retribution: Evidence for moderation by externalization of blame and control. Motiv Emot 45, 798–808 (2021).

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  • Shame
  • Externalization of blame
  • Locus of control
  • Aggression
  • Non-suicidal self-injury