The evolution of social attractiveness and its role in shame, humiliation, guilt and therapy

Br J Med Psychol. 1997 Jun;70 ( Pt 2):113-47. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8341.1997.tb01893.x.


This paper suggests that humans have innate needs to be seen as attractive to others. These needs form the basis for shame and mediate evaluations of social standing (status), social acceptance and social bonds. Shame and humiliation are associated with attacks on, and losses of, social attractiveness. The internal experiences of shame are derived from submissive strategies where one seeks to signal to others awareness of loss of social standing and limit possible damage. However, it is suggested that shame and humiliation differ from each other in a number of ways. For example, in shame the focus is on the self, while in humiliation the focus is on the harm done by others. Variations in the defensive strategies of shame and humiliation (e.g. avoidance, escape versus aggression and revenge) can pose particularly difficult problems in therapy. A focus on the role of social attractiveness in shame also allows for important distinctions to be drawn between shame and guilt.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Guilt*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Psychological Theory
  • Shame*
  • Social Desirability*