16 Nov 2008

Shame as Adaptation

Posted by jofr

Shame, guilt and regret are common in human societies, although today maybe less than in the 18th and 19th century. Already Charles Darwin has written about them in The expression of the emotions in man and animals. Shame arises from a violation of cultural or social values while guilt feelings originate in violations of one’s internal values.

A recent simulation from Klaus Jaffe (Complexity Vol. 14, Issue 2 (2008) 46-52) shows that shame may help individuals to avoid social punishment. In this sense shame can be considered as a adaptation to social punishment. If this is correct, then in conservative societies with strong social punishment (which impose high costs on defectors) shame should be more pronounced than in liberal societies where less social punishment is common. The western societies of the 18th and 19th century where shame was not unusual were indeed much more conservative than the societies today, the social norms and values were much stricter, and the Christian religions had more influence.

If shame is an adaptation to social punishment, then one can also take a look at the opposite: is sociableness an adaptation to social reward (and to a lesser extend proud, pride, and vanity) ?

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