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Behav Res Ther. 1996 Sep;34(9):741-54.

Conceptual and methodological issues in the assessment of shame and guilt.

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Department of Psychology, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030-4444, USA.


Although shame and guilt are prominently cited in theories of moral behaviour and psychopathology, surprisingly little research has considered these emotions. A key factor hindering research in this area has been a need for psychometrically sound measures of shame and guilt. Fortunately, a number of new measures have been developed in recent years. In this article, I describe the current status of the assessment of these long-neglected emotions, highlighting both conceptual and methodological issues that arise in the measurement of shame and guilt. I begin with a discussion of several definitions of and distinctions between shame and guilt, summarizing the degree to which these alternative conceptualizations have been empirically supported. This background is important when evaluating the relative strengths and weaknesses of a given measurement strategy (e.g. the degree to which a strategy is grounded in a sound conceptual framework). I then describe specific measures of shame and guilt, including dispositional measures (i.e. assessing individual differences in proneness to shame and proneness to guilt across situations) and state measures (i.e. assessing feelings of shame and guilt in the moment), offering my observations on their respective strengths and weaknesses and some suggestions for future measurement development.

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