When feeling bad makes you look good: guilt, shame, and person perception.Cogn Emot. 2012; 26(3):407-30.CE
In two studies, we examined how expressions of guilt and shame affected person perception. In the first study, participants read an autobiographical vignette in which the writer did something wrong and reported feeling either guilt, shame, or no emotion. The participants then rated the writer's motivations, beliefs, and traits, as well as their own feelings toward the writer. The person expressing feelings of guilt or shame was perceived more positively on a number of attributes, including moral motivation and social attunement, than the person who reported feeling no emotion. In the second study, the writer of the vignette reported experiencing (or not experiencing) cognitive and motivational aspects of guilt or shame. Expressing a desire to apologise (guilt) or feelings of worthlessness (private shame) resulted in more positive impressions than did reputational concerns (public shame) or a lack of any of these feelings. Our results indicate that verbal expressions of moral emotions such as guilt and shame influence perception of moral character as well as likeability.