The Social Psychology of Good and Evil

By Arthur G. Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 13
A MORAL-EMOTIONAL
PERSPECTIVE ON EVIL PERSONS
AND EVIL DEEDS

JUNE PRICE TANGNEY

JEFF STUEWIG

Shame and guilt are generally regarded as moral emotions in that they motivate people to do good and to avoid doing evil. Contemporary research, however, has suggested that shame and guilt are not equally moral, nor adaptive, emotions. In this chapter, we reexamine some of our previous conclusions about the maladaptive nature of shame. In normal populations, guilt is clearly the moral emotion of choice, whereas shame has been associated with substantial hidden costs. However, based on our recent research with incarcerated offenders, we suspect that shame may not be all bad, in all contexts. For example, feelings of shame may frequently provoke self-loathing, denial, and defense, but the capacity to experience shame may be preferable to the complete absence of moral emotional experience presumed to be characteristic of psychopaths.1 In extreme popu

1The term sociopath is sometimes used instead of psychopath. The term of choice sometimes reflects the belief about the origins of the condition; other times it reflects habit or training. Criminologists and sociologists often use the word sociopath because they believe that social forces create the condition. Those who take a more psychological, biological, and genetic approach may use the term psychopath. Essentially, however, the traits and behaviors that describe these individuals are the same no matter which term is used. Researchers using Hare's PCL-R use the term psychopath to refer to individuals who score at or above a specified cutoff.

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