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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Examining Vicarious Guilt and Shame Through Corporate and Categoric Dimensions of Social Identities

  • Author(s): Thai, Yvonne
  • Advisor(s): Burke, Peter J
  • et al.

This study examines the group-based emotions of vicarious shame and vicarious guilt using an elaboration of the perceptual control focus of identity theory. The concept of social identity is refined through incorporating categorical and corporate dimensions. This extends identity theory by including new dimensions of meaning, which have not been examined in the existing literature as well as by testing the predictive power of specific emotions as outcomes of the identity verification process. Moreover, the role of culture via interdependent self-construals is also considered within these processes. To empirically test these relationships, two surveys are administered to over three hundred students at a large Southwestern university. The survey contains a series of hypothetical scenarios measuring two social identities: ethnic and classmate. The purpose of the scenarios is to create the conditions in which vicarious shame and guilt are thought to occur in addition to activating the respondent's social identity. After respondents read each scenario, they are queried regarding their social identities, reflected appraisals, extent to which they saw the act as a violation, motivation to change how others perceive them and emotional responses among other things. Results are mixed; showing that while ethnic and classmate identities do not significantly predict shame and guilt, reflected appraisals do across all scenarios. In certain contexts degree of violation, degree of self-reported interdependence, and identity prominence are also shown to be significant predictors. Implications of the study findings and recommendations for future research are discussed.

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