Guilt, shame and committing crime

A recent study in the journal Psychological Science suggests that the degree to which inmates express guilt or shame may indicate how likely they are to re-offend.

The researchers, June Tangney, Jeffrey Stuewig and Andres Martinez of George Mason University, associated guilt with experiences of tension, remorse and regret. They defined shame as painful feelings directed towards the self. But the researchers also said that when some people experience shame, they become defensive, deny responsibility and blame others.

The study showed that inmates who felt shame, but were also defensive and blamed others, were more likely to go back to crime than those who felt guilt.

Here’s more information about the study:

After committing a crime, guilt and shame predict re-offense, on PsychologicalScience.org.

I found the study a bit confusing. The people who engage in criminal activity, and then become defensive, deny responsibility and blame others, are likely to have high psychopathic traits. But psychopaths do not have shame —that’s a core of the disorder.

What it comes down to is how the words “shame” and “guilt” are defined. Here are some other views on how sociopaths / psychopaths experience these emotions from previous Lovefraud articles:

Sociopaths and psychopaths: Have you no shame? By Dr. Liane Leedom.

No shame, no gain, by Steve Becker, LCSW.

Here’s bottom line: Someone who engages in bad behavior, then refuses to accept responsibility and blames others (including you) for what he or she did, should not be part of your life.


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