On the biological and cultural evolution of shame: Using internet search tools to weight values in many cultures

Klaus Jaffe, Astrid Florez, Cristina M Gomes, Daniel Rodriguez, Carla Achury

Shame has clear biological roots and its precise form of expression affects social cohesion and cultural characteristics. Here we explore the relative importance between shame and guilt by using Google Translate to produce translation for the words shame, guilt, pain, embarrassment and fear to the 64 languages covered. We also explore the meanings of these concepts among the Yanomami, a horticulturist hunter-gatherer tribe in the Orinoquia. Results show that societies previously described as 'guilt societies' have more words for guilt than for shame, but the large majority, including the societies previously described as 'shame societies', have more words for shame than for guilt. Results are consistent with evolutionary models of shame which predict a wide scatter in the relative importance between guilt and shame, suggesting that cultural evolution of shame has continued the work of biological evolution, and that neither provides a strong adaptive advantage to either shame or guilt. We propose that the study of shame will improve our understanding of the interaction between biological and cultural evolution in the evolution of cognition and emotions.

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