Are shame, guilt, and embarrassment distinct emotions?

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1996 Jun;70(6):1256-69. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.70.6.1256.


182 undergraduates described personal embarrassment, shame, and guilt experiences and rated these experiences on structural and phenomenological dimensions. Contrary to popular belief, shame was no more likely than guilt to be experienced in "public" situations; all 3 emotions typically occurred in social contexts, but a significant proportion of shame and guilt events occurred when respondents were alone. Analyses of participants' phenomenological ratings clearly demonstrated that shame, guilt, and embarrassment are not merely different terms for the same affective experience. In particular, embarrassment was a relatively distant neighbor of shame and guilt, and the differences among the 3 could not be explained simply by intensity of affect or by degree of moral transgression. Finally, participants generally were their own harshest critics in each type of event, evaluating themselves more negatively than they believed others did.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Guilt*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Shame*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Environment