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J Pers. 2017 Jun;85(3):341-363. doi: 10.1111/jopy.12244. Epub 2016 Mar 8.

The Interpersonal Adaptiveness of Dispositional Guilt and Shame: A Meta-Analytic Investigation.

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Northeastern University.


Despite decades of empirical research, conclusions regarding the adaptiveness of dispositional guilt and shame are mixed. We use meta-analysis to summarize the empirical literature and clarify these ambiguities. Specifically, we evaluate how guilt and shame are uniquely related to pro-social orientation and, in doing so, highlight the substantial yet under-acknowledged impact of researchers' methodological choices. A series of meta-analyses was conducted investigating the relationship between dispositional guilt (or shame) and pro-social orientation. Two main methodological moderators of interest were tested: test format (scenario vs. checklist) and statistical analysis (semi-partial vs. zero-order correlations). Among studies employing zero-order correlations, dispositional guilt was positively correlated with pro-social orientation (k = 63, Mr = .13, p < .001), whereas dispositional shame was negatively correlated, (k = 47, Mr = -.05, p = .07). Test format was a significant moderator for guilt studies only, with scenario measures producing significantly stronger effects. Semi-partial correlations resulted in significantly stronger effects among guilt and shame studies. Although dispositional guilt and shame are differentially related to pro-social orientation, such relationships depend largely on the methodological choices of the researcher, particularly in the case of guilt. Implications for the study of these traits are discussed.

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