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Behav Sci (Basel). 2017 Dec 11;7(4). pii: E83. doi: 10.3390/bs7040083.

A Comparison of the Social-Adaptive Perspective and Functionalist Perspective on Guilt and Shame.

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Department of Psychology, Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, AL 36265, USA.


Within the field of guilt and shame two competing perspectives have been advanced. The first, the social-adaptive perspective, proposes that guilt is an inherently adaptive emotion and shame is an inherently maladaptive emotion. Thus, those interested in moral character development and psychopathology should work to increase an individual's guilt-proneness and decrease an individual's shame-proneness. The functionalist perspective, in contrast, argues that both guilt and shame can serve a person adaptively or maladaptively-depending on the situational appropriateness, duration, intensity, and so forth. This paper reviews the research conducted supporting both positions; critiques some issues with the most widely used guilt- and shame-proneness measure in the social-adaptive research (the TOSCA) and discusses the differences in results found when assessing guilt and shame at the state versus trait level. The conclusion drawn is that although there is broad support for the functionalist perspective across a wide variety of state and trait guilt/shame studies, the functionalist perspective does not yet have the wealth of data supporting it that has been generated by the social-adaptive perspective using the TOSCA. Thus, before a dominant perspective can be identified, researchers need to (1) do more research assessing how the social-adaptive perspective compares to the functionalist perspective at the state level and (2) do more trait research within the functionalist perspective to compare functionalist guilt- and shame-proneness measures with the TOSCA.


TOSCA; Test of Self-Conscious Affect; emotion; guilt; moral emotions; self-conscious emotions; shame; social emotions

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