No place to hide: When shame causes proselfs to cooperate
Shame is often considered a moral emotion with action tendencies shaped by natural selection to elicit socially beneficial behavior. Yet, unlike guilt or other social emotions, prior experimental studies do not indicate that incidental shame boosts prosocial behavior. Based on the affect as information theory, we hypothesize that incidental feelings of shame increase cooperative behavior, but only for self-interested individuals, and only in situations where shame is relevant with regards to its action tendency of avoiding reputation losses. To test this hypothesis, cooperation levels are compared between a classic prisoner’s dilemma (where “defect” may result from multiple motives) and a sequential prisoner’s dilemma (where “defect” is the result of intentional greediness). The results indicate that, as hypothesized, proself individuals cooperate more following incidental shame, but only in a sequential prisoner’s dilemma. Hence ashamed proselfs become inclined to cooperate when they believe they have no way to hide their greediness, and not necessarily because they want to make up for earlier wrong-doing.
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