Shame-proneness, guilt-proneness and anxiety symptoms: A meta-analysis

J Anxiety Disord. 2018 Aug;58:78-106. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2018.07.005. Epub 2018 Jul 21.


There is a growing body of investigations showing that shame and guilt are important features of various psychological problems including anxiety disorders. This study quantitatively summarized the magnitude of the associations of shame and guilt with anxiety symptoms. We looked both at the associations with broader categories of anxiety symptoms (i.e., undifferentiated anxiety symptoms, trait and state anxiety), but also with symptoms specific to individual anxiety disorders. In most cases, shame was more strongly associated with anxiety symptoms (in general medium effect sizes) than guilt (in general small effect sizes). When controlling for the shared variance of shame and guilt, in most cases only shame remained significantly associated with anxiety symptoms. Moderation analyses testing for the effect of subtype of shame/guilt, type of measurement, clinical status, age and gender were conducted. Two types of guilt seem to be equally maladaptive as shame, generalized guilt (involving a free-floating guilt separated from specific contexts) and contextual-maladaptive guilt (involving an inappropriate or exaggerated feeling of responsibility). External shame (perceived negative evaluations of others) seems to be more strongly associated with social anxiety symptoms than internal shame (negative self-evaluations). Results for other moderators and implications are discussed in light of the existing theoretical and empirical data.

Keywords: Anxiety; Guilt; OCD; PTSD; Shame.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Fear / psychology
  • Guilt*
  • Humans
  • Shame*