Children’s Proneness to Shame and Guilt Predict Risky and Illegal Behaviors in Young Adulthood
Tangney, June P.
Folk, Johanna B.
Meyer, Candace Reinsmith
Dearing, Ronda L.
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AbstractDo shame and guilt help people avoid doing wrong? Although some research suggests that guilt-proneness is a protective factor while shame-proneness puts individuals at risk, most research is either cross-sectional or short-term. In this longitudinal study, 380 5th graders (ages 10–12) completed measures of proneness to shame and guilt. We re-interviewed 68% of participants after they turned 18 years old (range 18–21). Guilt-proneness assessed in childhood predicted fewer sexual partners, less use of illegal drugs and alcohol, and less involvement with the criminal justice system. Shame-proneness, in contrast, was a risk factor for later deviant behavior. Shame-prone children were more likely to have unprotected sex and use illegal drugs in young adulthood. These results held when controlling for childhood SES and teachers’ ratings of aggression. Children’s moral emotional styles appear to be well established by at least middle childhood, with distinct downstream implications for risky behavior in early adulthood.