Gender differences in self-conscious emotional experience: a meta-analysis

Psychol Bull. 2012 Sep;138(5):947-81. doi: 10.1037/a0027930. Epub 2012 Apr 2.


The self-conscious emotions (SCE) of guilt, shame, pride, and embarrassment are moral emotions, which motivate adherence to social norms and personal standards and emerge in early childhood following the development of self-awareness. Gender stereotypes of emotion maintain that women experience more guilt, shame, and embarrassment but that men experience more pride. To estimate the magnitude of gender differences in SCE experience and to determine the circumstances under which these gender differences vary, we meta-analyzed 697 effect sizes representing 236,304 individual ratings of SCE states and traits from 382 journal articles, dissertations, and unpublished data sets. Guilt (d = -0.27) and shame (d = -0.29) displayed small gender differences, whereas embarrassment (d = -0.08), authentic pride (d = -0.01), and hubristic pride (d = 0.09) showed gender similarities. Similar to previous findings of ethnic variations in gender differences in other psychological variables, gender differences in shame and guilt were significant only for White samples or samples with unspecified ethnicity. We found larger gender gaps in shame with trait (vs. state) scales, and in guilt and shame with situation- and scenario-based (vs. adjective- and statement-based) items, consistent with predictions that such scales and items tend to tap into global, nonspecific assessments of the self and thus reflect self-stereotyping and gender role assimilative effects. Gender differences in SCE about domains such as the body, sex, and food or eating tended to be larger than gender differences in SCE about other domains. These findings contribute to the literature demonstrating that blanket stereotypes about women's greater emotionality are inaccurate.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emotions*
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Gender Identity*
  • Guilt
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Men / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Morals
  • Review Literature as Topic
  • Self Concept*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Shame
  • Social Conformity
  • Stereotyping*
  • White People / statistics & numerical data
  • Women / psychology
  • Young Adult