Shame as a Culture-Specific Emotion Concept

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture

Abstract

On the assumption that shame is a universal emotion, cross-cultural research on shame relies on translations assumed to be equivalent in meaning. Our studies here questioned that assumption. In three studies (Ns, 108, 120, 117), shame was compared to its translations in Spanish (vergüenza) and in Malayalam (nanakedu). American English speakers used shame for the emotional reaction to moral failures and its use correlated positively with guilt, whereas vergüenza and nanakedu were used less for moral stories and their use correlated less with the guilt words. In comparison with Spanish and Malayalam speakers’ ratings of their translations, American English speakers rated shame and guilt to be more similar to each other.

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