Basic only develop self-conscious emotions later on in childhood.

Basic emotions and self-conscious
emotions differ in multiple ways – we are born with basic emotions but only
develop self-conscious emotions later on in childhood. Largely self-conscious emotions
have been misunderstood as they lack universal facial expressions and are not as
obviously recognised as basic emotions. This essay will specifically discuss
the self-conscious emotions of embarrassment, guilt, shame and pride and their
importance for social behaviours will be assessed. Generally, it can be said
that self-conscious emotions play a very important role in social behaviours –
and they can have both negative and positive impacts on social situations. On
the other hand, though, some literature has discussed the idea that basic
emotions lead people’s decisions and behaviours, with self-conscious emotions
only acting alongside them.

The most obvious distinction
between basic and self-conscious emotions is that self-conscious emotions
require self-awareness and self-representations (Tangney, 1999). Self-conscious
emotions come about because people become aware of who they are as a person and
have their own expectations of who they should be, what they should do and what
other people in society should be. People also develop an awareness of social
norms and ‘rules’ within society which helps them to compare their own
behaviours and thoughts to see whether they are right or wrong (Izard, 1977).
It can be said that basic emotions can also involve these processes, but they
are necessary for self-conscious emotions. The later development of
self-conscious emotions, as briefly mentioned previously, is due to the need of
the development of self-evaluations and awareness which has been said to
develop around age 3 (Izard, 1977). It is said that around this age, children
start to understand what is wrong and right and what is expected of them
through societal norms and rules – these norms determine what is appropriate
behaviour and that however they behave will be evaluated by others (Lewis, 2000).
Examples of basic emotions are anger, disgust,
fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise whereas examples of self-conscious
emotions are guilt, shame, embarrassment, and pride.

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A similarity can be found
between basic and self-conscious emotions by looking at evolutionary perspectives
and understanding the role emotions play in survival. Basic emotions, in
particular fear, can be seen to assist in survival by providing people with a
fight or flight response and also assist in appropriate social behaviour
(Lewis, 2000). In contrast to this, self-conscious emotions play a very
different role in aiding survival in that they promote social goals within
society. Humans have evolved to survive, and thrive, within complex social
hierarchies and structures which do often shift and change (Tangney, Stuewig
& Mashek, 2007). Self-conscious emotions allow communities and people
within society to understand one another and live together in a civilised
society, thus working to aid survival. It has been said that self-conscious
emotions elicit behaviours to promote stability within their hierarchies with two
specific emotions – pride for establishing dominance and embarrassment for appeasement
(Tangney et al, 2007). The obvious differences, then, between basic and
self-conscious emotions from an evolutionary perspective is that basic emotions
provide people with a generic instinct of survival whereas self-conscious
emotions provide people with a more developed way of understanding one another
and changing our behaviours accordingly.

Furthermore, self-conscious
emotions are ‘cognitively complex’ in that to experience the emotion of fear or
sadness people simply need to perceive an object or event as threatening to
their survival and goals for survival. However, to experience a self-conscious
emotion, such as shame, a person must be self-aware and reflect on their
decisions based on social behaviours and norms – which requires a bigger cognitive
capacity (Izard, 1999). The capacity to self-reflect allows a person to engage
in multiple evaluative processes which then allow a multitude of self-conscious
emotions to develop. This has led to Izard (1999) referring to self-conscious
emotions as ‘cognitive dependent’ emotions and basic emotions as ‘cognitive
independent’ because they occur without the need of multiple cognitive processes
(Izard et al, 1999, p92).

There has been a multitude of
research that has been carried out to look at whether self-conscious emotions
are important for social behaviours and if they are, why are they important? Looking
at the emotion of embarrassment, it is clear to see that this emotion does play
a very important role in social behaviours and regulating how a person behaves within
society. It has been found that the feeling of embarrassment is likely to bring
about appeasement from the people around you, and if you are embarrassed, people
are more likely to see you in a favourable light (Keltner, 1995). This
hypothesis states that the act of embarrassment is brought about by acting
unfavourably against social norms and/or breaking rules within society and the act
of embarrassment alone shows a ‘submissive apology’ (p.441) for this violation
(Keltner, 1995). It also shows that the individual is aware that what they did
was a violation and demonstrates their knowledge of the ‘wrong doing’. This can
prove to be important for human social behaviours because it allows societies
to feel sympathy for and better understand individuals that have violated norms
but acknowledge their mistakes.

In a study by Semin and
Manstead (1982) the role of embarrassment was looked at through actors knocking
over products on a supermarket shelf. If the actors were outwardly embarrassed
by the event, then the people around them were received more favourably
compared to if they did not act embarrassed by the event. This study clearly
demonstrates how the appeasement hypothesis works when people show
embarrassment – the emotion acts as a way to regulate the way other people act towards
the embarrassed individual. In this respect, it is evident to see that
embarrassment is important for mostly positive social behaviours and

Embarrassment as a social function
has been looked at on three different levels by Keltner and Haidt (1999) with
the three levels being on an individual level, a dyadic level and a group
level. They have indicated that on an individual level, embarrassment is a way
for people to engage in corrective behaviours to reinstate their position in
society. On a dyadic level, embarrassment helps to bring about reconciliation in
a relationship and it also prompts forgiveness in other people – for example,
it has been found that in a relationship, if one person is embarrassed about
something they may have done wrong (in this example forgotten about a birthday),
their partner is more likely to forgive them more quickly than if they do not
show any signs of embarrassment (Keltner & Haidt, 1999). Lastly, Keltner
and Haidt found that on a group level, embarrassment helps to maintain and
reinstate hierarchies and social norms. Therefore it is fair to conclude that
embarrassment, generally, has a positive impact on human social behaviours – while
it may be an unpleasant feeling, when someone emits embarrassment, it has a
positive impact on their social standing and other people’s understanding of

While many researchers have
grouped embarrassment and shame together, in that embarrassment is a milder
form of shame, there is evidence to suggest that shame is a different emotion
and can have a very different impact on all levels. Hooge, Zeelenberg and
Breugelmans (2011) identified that shame tends to motivate behaviours that interfere
with relationships in a negative way. Generally, shame creates a feeling of a
whole generalisation to the self and this creates a heightened sense of self
awareness and makes the individual focus on others’ negative evaluations. Shame
often makes the individual feel alone and powerless which has been found to
have a direct impact on social behaviours and relationships with others. Gilbert
(1997) found that shame makes speech and action more difficult and less likely
for people to engage in and this would then lead to them disengaging in social
interactions and leading them to withdraw from society. Due to the largely
negative impact brought about by shame, then, the importance of this specific
self-conscious emotion should be considered – does this emotion really play an
important role in behaviours when it only seems to produce negative
consequences of being withdrawn and lonely?

The research of Tangney,
Miller, Flicker and Barlow (1996) has shown that actually, shame can be
important for social behaviours in that this emotion activates a willingness in
the individual to make an amends and try to right their wrongs. It has also
been found that shame brings about approach behaviours that work to restore the
self into being something that the individual is happy with again. This would
not only provide a positive amends within a relationship, but it would also
provide the individual with a positive development of their self-evaluation and
self-awareness. Tangney et al suggested that as having a positive self-view is central
to humans, individuals who experience shame are highly motivated to restore their
positive self-view. This feeling of shame, and thus the process of
re-evaluating the self, brings about a higher likelihood of trying new challenges
and partaking in reparative actions to fix their previous wrong-doings.
However, if the process of correcting their behaviour is too risky, the shame
they feel will instead elicit withdrawal to protect themselves from harm from society
and relationships. From this research, it can be said that shame, as a self-conscious
emotion in social behaviours, can have both positive and negative impacts. It
plays an important role in self-regulation and an increase in a person’s self-awareness
but the importance of shame in social interactions between others can be
questioned. It has been said that the role of embarrassment is more effective
in appeasement in a social setting and so the importance of shame can be put
into question.

Like embarrassment and shame,
guilt has been said to produce similar feelings and interactions. Guilt can be
said to have a positive impact on social behaviours as it allows the individual
to focus on the event and how to better themselves to do things differently
should the opportunity arise in the future. Often when people experience guilt,
it is because they are focused on any distress they may have caused and by
focusing on such a negative outcome, it motivates the individual to make
positive changes to their behaviour. For example, Wallington, Freedman and
Bless (1967) found that the feeling of guilt increases an individual’s personal
responsibility and the forgiveness of others. They also found that the main
function of guilt on social behaviours is to strengthen any hurt relationships
by inspiring appropriate behaviour. Similar to this, Hooge et al (2011) found
that guilt has a largely positive impact if it is part of a dyadic relationship,
but it is more negative in a person’s daily life in that the extra effort an
individual would put in to fixing the relationship to repair the guilt puts strain
on other social relationships.

Guilt can be seen as having very
important influences because it takes the individual’s focus away from personal
evaluation and instead puts the focus solely on the victim and event. Roseman
et al (1994) provides empirical evidence to back up the idea that guilt is a
positive self-conscious emotion in that participants wanted to punish
themselves and make up for their transgressions and to be forgiven after
feeling guilty and similar to this, De Hooge et al (2007) found that guilt led
people to act more prosocially in a dilemma towards strangers. Evidently, then,
guilt is an important self-conscious emotion for human social behaviours as it
allows individuals to show their sincerity to not only people they are close
with, but also to people they do not know. It is an essential emotion for developing
relationships and to motivate people to actively change the way the behave in
certain instances, to decrease any future feelings of guilt.

Having said this, the majority
of the research that has looked at guilt as a positive self-conscious emotion on
social behaviours in dyadic and intimate relationships. The actuality of guilt having
overall positive influences on all areas of behaviour is unlikely as Hooge et
al (2011) claims guilt has negative interpersonal consequences as the
individual who feels guilty fails to pay an equal amount of attention to all of
his or her social relationships. As they are working to put more effort into
fixing the distress of a particular person, they are likely to ignore the other
people in their social circle and so these relationships may be damaged as a consequence.

Although looking at whether
self-conscious emotions are important for social human behaviours, it is also
key to consider how important basic emotions are, too. For example, Esteves, Dimberg
and Ohman (1996) found that displays of anger elicit fear responses from
others, even if the display of anger was subliminal. As mentioned earlier, fear
and anger are both basic emotions and the fact that fear was elicited as a
result of anger clearly suggests that basic emotions can also play a role in
social behaviours. Keltner and Haidt (1999) also found that emotional
expressions, such as happiness and fear, help people learn others’ emotions and
beliefs and also with the co-ordination of social behaviours and interactions.

It has largely been said that
pride is the least researched of the self-conscious emotions. Gruenewald, Dickerson
and Kemeny (2007) suggested this is because of the historical focus on negative
emotions and less interest on positive well-being. They also suggested that
pride is the opposite of shame and positive self-evaluation is necessary for
the elicitation of pride. More obviously than with embarrassment, shame or guilt,
pride elicits greatly positive prosocial behaviours but this easily changes
when pride gets ‘too much’, which is known as hubris. Pride is said to be
something that is sought out among adults and children alike and if someone is
proud, they are likely to be positively evaluated by the people around them.
Hubris, however, is commonly looked negatively upon as it is ‘pride that is
more associated with narcissism’ (Tracy & Robins, 2007, p.264). It is
thought to be associated with conflicts within relationships, interpersonal
problems and the development of maladaptive behaviours. Pride has also been
found to have adaptive functions for social behaviours, in that people within
society recognise people who are proud and this merits an increase in social
status and acceptance into the group.

Tracy and Robins (2007)
suggest that hubris can be important for an individual to gain social status
quickly and gain the admiration of others – however, this does not gain the liking
of others. Therefore, it can be said that hubristic pride can be important and
adaptive in situations whereby a person needs to display their authority and
ranking within a hierarchy. Although hubristic pride has mostly negative
connotations, while ‘authentic’ pride has mostly positive connotations,
research has shown that they are both important in social human behaviours.

While it is clear that
self-conscious emotions are indeed important for human behaviours, the methodological
difficulties when researching these emotions should be taken into account. Self-conscious
emotions are difficult to measure in the laboratory compared to measuring basic
emotions – in particular anger and fear as their nonverbal cues are more
obvious and easier to see. Furthermore, it is ethically difficult to manipulate
self-conscious emotions in participants, for example forcing a participant to
feel shame or guilt is not only difficult, but it is unethical and may cause
harm. Also, shame and guilt are subjective in individuals as different events
or cues may cause these emotions differently in people. As with basic emotions,
though, everyone has unique experiences of all emotions and elicit them in different
ways and for different social behaviours. This therefore presents difficulties
in researching how important self-conscious emotions are in behaviours.

To conclude, it is evident
that self-conscious emotions are indeed important for human social behaviours
but these emotions are not consistently negative or positive. Each emotion has
both positive and negative levels and therefore they affect behaviours in multiple
ways. This is likely due to the complexity of the cognitive processes involved
in these emotions and the need for self-evaluation. 


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