Behavioral Sciences, Social Psychology; guilt; shame; emotion; functionalist perspective; TOSCA
Within the field of guilt and shame, two competing perspectives have been advanced. The first, the inherent adaptivity perspective, has been primarily advanced by Tangney and colleagues. This position advocates that guilt is an inherently adaptive emotion and shame is an inherently maladaptive emotion; thus, those interested in moral character development and psychopathology should work to increase an individual’s guilt-proneness and decrease an individual’s shame-proneness. The functionalist perspective, in contrast, has advocated that both guilt and shame can serve a person adaptively and maladaptively—depending on the situational appropriateness, duration, intensity, and so forth. This paper reviews the research conducted supporting both positions, critiques some issues with the most widely used guilt- and shame-proneness measure in the inherent adaptivity research (the TOSCA), and discusses the differences in results found when assessing guilt and shame at the state versus trait level. The conclusion drawn is that although there is broad support for the functionalist perspective across a wide variety of state and trait guilt/shame studies, the functionalist perspective does not yet have the wealth of data supporting it that has been generated by the inherent adaptivity perspective using the TOSCA. Thus, before a dominant perspective can be identified, researchers need to (1) do more research assessing how the inherent adaptivity perspective compares to the functionalist perspective at the state level, and (2) do more trait research within the functionalist perspective to compare functionalist-generated guilt- and shame-proneness measures with the TOSCA.