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J Soc Psychol. 2014 Jan-Feb;154(1):74-88.

No place to hide: when shame causes proselfs to cooperate.


Shame is considered a social emotion with action tendencies that elicit socially beneficial behavior. Yet, unlike other social emotions, prior experimental studies do not indicate that incidental shame boosts prosocial behavior. Based on the affect as information theory, we hypothesize that incidental feelings of shame can increase cooperation, but only for self-interested individuals, and only in a context where shame is relevant with regards to its action tendency. To test this hypothesis, cooperation levels are compared between a simultaneous prisoner's dilemma (where "defect" may result from multiple motives) and a sequential prisoner's dilemma (where "second player defect" is the result of intentional greediness). As hypothesized, shame positively affected proselfs in a sequential prisoner's dilemma. Hence ashamed proselfs become inclined to cooperate when they believe they have no way to hide their greediness, and not necessarily because they want to make up for earlier wrong-doing.

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