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Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2010 Feb;36(2):213-24. doi: 10.1177/0146167209356788. Epub 2009 Dec 15.

The "shoulds" and "should nots" of moral emotions: a self-regulatory perspective on shame and guilt.

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University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts 01003, USA.


A self-regulatory framework for distinguishing between shame and guilt was tested in three studies. Recently, two forms of moral regulation based on approach versus avoidance motivation have been proposed in the literature. Proscriptive regulation is sensitive to negative outcomes, inhibition based, and focused on what we should not do. Prescriptive regulation is sensitive to positive outcomes, activation based, and focused on what we should do. In the current research, consistent support was found for shame's proscriptive and guilt's prescriptive moral underpinnings. Study 1 found a positive association between avoidance orientation and shame proneness and between approach orientation and guilt proneness. In Study 2, priming a proscriptive orientation increased shame and priming a prescriptive orientation increased guilt. In Study 3, transgressions most apt to represent proscriptive and prescriptive violations predicted subsequent judgments of shame and guilt, respectively. This self-regulatory perspective provides a broad interpretive framework for understanding and extending past research findings.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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