Reconsidering the Differences Between Shame and Guilt


  • Maria Miceli
  • Cristiano Castelfranchi


Although most researchers maintain that shame and guilt are distinct emotions, the debate on their differences is still open. We aim to show that some of the current distinctions between shame and guilt need to be redrawn, and their adaptive and social implications need to be revisited. We suggest the following distinguishing criteria: the kind of self-evaluation involved (inadequacy versus harmfulness); one’s focus on the perceived discrepancy between actual and ideal self versus one’s focus on the perceived responsibility for one’s fault; and consequently the different domains of self-esteem involved. Although these criteria have been in part suggested or alluded to in the relevant literature, we use and integrate them with each other in a novel way. This allows to better distinguish between shame and guilt, as well as to account for their possible coexistence or the shift from one emotion to the other.