Shame and the motivation to change the self

Emotion. 2014 Dec;14(6):1049-61. doi: 10.1037/a0038235.


A central question of human psychology is whether and when people change for the better. Although it has long been assumed that emotion plays a central role in self-regulation, the role of specific emotions in motivating a desire for self-change has been largely ignored. We report 2 studies examining people's lived experiences of self-conscious emotions, particularly shame, in motivating a desire for self-change. Study 1 revealed that when participants recalled experiences of shame, guilt, or embarrassment, shame-and, to some degree, guilt-predicted a motivation for self-change. Study 2 compared shame, guilt, and regret for events and found that although shame experiences often involved high levels of both regret and guilt, it was feelings of shame that uniquely predicted a desire for self-change, whereas regret predicted an interest in mentally undoing the past and repairing harm done. Implications for motivating behavior change are discussed.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Guilt
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Self Concept*
  • Shame*
  • Young Adult