Shame.Every person heard this phrase multiple times in his life. But what is shame? Why does this feeling exist? Some say it’s a congenital pathology that can be treated, and others assume that shame is a hideous emotion. Scientists believe it’s neither of those, but rather a useful tool that evolved in human psychology and helps the survival of the species.

The nature of shame

There’s another theory launched by a team of scientists from the University of Montreal, who interpreted the feeling of shame in a completely different way.

The authors of the research believe that shame was naturally present in human nature as this feeling was vital to our ancestors, Science Daily reports.

Ancient people used to live in groups where one always had to rely and be dependent on others. They were experiencing many life-threatening situations and needed some help from other members of the group. People couldn’t count on the assistance if they weren’t appreciated.

So, they considered consequences of their actions in order to stay alive and protected. Thus, the fear of being rejected by the members of the group prevented individuals from doing shameful things. In other words, shame evolved as a defense and it helps us maintaining relations with other members of the society.

As one of the authors of the study stated, this feeling doesn’t refer to just a man himself.When making a choice, a person is weighing in not only his own benefit but also the social costs. The researchers suggest the feeling of shame is inherent in every culture, since the ancient people used to have it. From our tribal ancestors who needed members of the group to survive, to the modern times when an individual has to rely on thousands of people, all contributing in some way to his or her well-being, what is holding the society together and prevents anti-social actions, is the need to get approval and fear of disapproval.

Is shame omnipresent?

The authors asked people from all around the world to take part in their study. The participants varied in their languages, ethnicities, economic and ecologic well-being. The researchers tested if such actions as thieving, being greedy or useless for a society would lead to the feeling of shame in every culture representative.

It appeared that the extent of feeling ashamed is proportional to the degree of further devaluation by the community. In spite of the fact that every culture has its own peculiarities, the tested participants showed extremely similar reactions on the display of the above-mentioned actions. It was not only fellow community members that condemned such a behavior but also the foreigners – it is another sign of the omnipresence of shame.

Moreover, some studies showcased that people tend to feel ashamed when others express their disapproval towards them. The point is, this is happening even when a man doesn’t consider his actions shameful – it shows how much we are dependent on the opinion of the society.

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In cultural anthropology, shame is a feeling one would get for doing an act that is out of harmony with the cultural norms of that society. A synonym might be dishonor. Following the cultural norms would be viewed by the citizens of that culture as honorable, so going against those norms wold be viewed as dishonorable or not honoring the culture. Shame is a personified feeling one gets for dishonoring the culture one live in.


Shame requires another’s knowledge of an action. People do things all the time that they feel no shame about because they are the only one aware of their act or action which would shame them if, and only if, someone else found out. Think about all the things you do the you are alone that you would not do in the company of others because you would experience shame. Shame is why we always clean our house before the housekeeper comes on Wednesday. Religion was a way to use shame when no one was looking…religion made us do the right… Read more »


Basically agree (with Jesse too). But count on not only the general culture, or generally on others, but on the: – subculture – conformism based on area, age group, and whatever factor XY behaviour against the norm of society by general. But in a particular subculture/ group this give the very same person prestige, rank, accolade. And from that point depends on the person what is his/ her personal ethic/ opinion about that. Probably somebody get a life sentence from the society/ authorities, and for the same became a famous hero in his/ her group, and very proud for it.… Read more »