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Self-Conscious Emotion and Existential Concerns: An Examination of the Effect of Shame on Death-Related Thoughts Open Access


Other title
Existential Psychology
Self-Conscious Emotion
Terror Management Theory
Death Thought Accessibility
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Duff, Carlton T.
Supervisor and department
Van Vliet, K. Jessica (Educational Psychology)
Examining committee member and department
Schimel, Jeff (Psychology)
Kuiken, Donald (Psychology)
Whelton, William (Educational Psychology)
Leeming, Dawn (External)
Buck, George (Educational Psychology)
Department of Educational Psychology
Counselling Psychology
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Shame is an emotionally painful experience that is commonly encountered in psychotherapy, typically involving a sense of exposure, negative self-judgment, and a strong desire to withdraw or hide. Such features reflect a perceived loss of status and safety in the world, issues that are of central concern to existential psychology. While existential psychology offers a theoretical framework for conceptualizing and remediating psychological difficulties, few principles in existential psychology have been subjected to rigorous empirical scrutiny. One exception is terror management theory (Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986), which proposes that our awareness of the inevitability of death evokes overwhelming fear, which we are motivated to reduce by engaging in activities such as improving social status or fostering meaningful relationships. However, despite well-established evidence that shame also arises from the same type of threats, the relationship between shame and terror management processes remains poorly understood. It was hypothesized that shame threatens the safety afforded by social status and close interpersonal relationships, leading to an increase in death-related thoughts. One hundred and fifty undergraduates wrote about either a personal experience of shame (shame induction) or about mundane events (control group), and then completed a word completion task designed to measure death-related thoughts. Although the shame induction failed to induce measurable increases in shame or death-related thoughts, post-hoc investigations revealed that guilt (but not shame) was associated with fewer death-related thoughts when there was also a strong sense of resolution about the event. Implications for future theory and research are discussed.
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File title: Dissertation - Final Manuscript
File author: Carlton T. Duff
Page count: 177
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