12. Link between shame & hostility in Grades 9 & 10

Summarised by Rachel Green, Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute, accredited user of the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso-Emotional-Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) and author of "How to develop emotional resilience and manage your emotions."

This article describes a research paper: "The longitudinal links between shame and increasing hostility during adolescence", written by Patrick Heaven, Joseph Ciarrochi & Peter Leeson. Published in "Personality and Individual Differences", 47, 841–844, 2009.

Does the experience of shame lead Grade 9 & 10 adolescents to become increasingly hostile?

The main aim of the study was to assess the longitudinal relationships between the experience of self-reported shame and hostility.

It was hypothesised that the experience of shame would lead adolescents in grade 9 to become increasingly hostile.

They investigated three specific questions:

1. Does shame lead to increasing hostility?

2. Are increases in shame the consequence of hostility?

3. Do shame and hostility influence each other?

Emotional intelligence subjects

765 high school students (392 males and 373 females; mean age = 14.41 years) in Grade 9 at round 1.

670 students (335 males and 335 females) in Grade 10 at round two

Students attended 5 Catholic high schools in New South Wales, Australia.

Emotional intelligence study methods

  • Participants were invited to participate in a survey on ‘‘Youth issues”.
  • All assessed on the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS-X). Five of the six items on the guilt subscale were used as the researchers believed these were really measures of shame.
  • Participants were asked to indicate how much they had experienced any of these feelings during the preceding month.

Emotional intelligence study results

  1. Shame and hostility showed high levels of stability over one-year.
  2. Higher shame in Grade 9 was predictive of increases in hostility from Grade 9 to Grade 10.
  3. Hostility did not predict increases in shame.
  4. Past levels of hostility and shame respectively explained 16% to 25% of the variance in future levels of hostility and shame. Higher shame in Grade 9 was predictive of increases in hostility in Grade 10.
  5. Those who experience shame seek to defend themselves against shameful feelings by acting in a hostile and aggressive manner toward others.

Emotional intelligence study conclusions & the future

Emotional states in childhood can affect levels of adjustment in adulthood, and thus this is an important area of research.

It is good to have a longitudinal study, more are needed.

There is so much more about shame in this age group I would like to know. For example,

  1. Are there different types of shame?
  2. Does it occur in different strengths?
  3. Are there short term feelings of shame which are different from longer term states of shame?
  4. Is there any situation in which shame is a good or fruitful feeling for someone in this age group to feel?
  5. Rather than considering the emotion of "shame" a bad thing, would it be more beneficial to teach our adolescents healthy and emotionally intelligent ways to manage it should it arise.

I always ask in any research using self-report measures, how accurate are self-report measures? I know from my own experience with emotional intelligence assessments how much variance there can be between a self report measure and an "external rater" measure, for example. I do understand that measuring emotions isn't easy, though, and that self-report measures are a great start.

Future longitudinal research could assess the consequences of shame on other social behaviours.

The authors stipulate: "Future research needs to assess the extent to which shame continues to influence hostility and, if so, what the cumulative effects are on adolescents’ overall adjustment and the quality of their interpersonal relationships. In other words, how will persistent high levels of shame over a number of years affect adolescent well-being into adulthood? How will persistent shame over time affect the quality of interpersonal relationships into the future?"

Key point about shame

In summary, shame is not an effective way to shape prosocial behaviour. "You should be ashamed of yourself ..." may increase and not decrease problems in adolescents. It may make it more likely that adolescents will engage in aggressive, antisocial behaviour. Not what we are aiming for!

Click here for the full article.

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There is so much that your leadership team can do to develop their emotional intelligence and the emotional intelligence of their school. We have a number of options to help:

  1. There is a series of emotional intelligence workshops, including: "Mastering emotional intelligence". 
  2. There is an emotional intelligence 2 DVD program "How to develop emotional resilience and manage your emotions".
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  4. Emotional intelligence asessments can be conducted using the MSCEIT.
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