A pragmatic investigation into the emotions of pride, shame, guilt, humiliation, and embarrassment: Lived experience and the challenge to established theory

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Colleges, School and Institutes


This paper investigates what it means to experience the ‘self-conscious emotions’ of pride, shame, guilt, humiliation, and embarrassment and assesses the findings against established theories. Study 1 collected qualitative data on real-world experiences of the emotions as experienced by social workers in England (N=21) and identifies and defines the components that constituted the experiences. Study 2 used vignettes to quantitatively test these concepts in a sample with a similar sociocultural context (N=124). The findings identify specific concepts for each emotion term with the exception of shame, which could not be distinguished from humiliation or embarrassment. This paper provides the first systematic analysis of all of these emotions within one study and has been the first to define the ‘relation-conscious emotions’ of acceptance and rejection as distinct emotions. In defining what it means to experience these emotions, these findings challenge established theories.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)616-643
JournalSocial Science Information
Issue number4
Early online date14 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018


  • Emotions, Shame, Pride, Embarrassment, Humiliation, Guilt, Pragmatism, Mixed methods