How bodily expressions of emotion after norm violation influence perceivers' moral judgments and prevent social exclusion: A socio-functional approach to nonverbal shame display.PLoS One. 2020; 15(4):e0232298.Plos
According to a socio-functional perspective on emotions, displaying shame with averted gaze and a slumped posture following a norm violation signals that the person is ready to conform to the group's moral standards, which in turn protects the person from social isolation and punishment. Although the assumption is intuitive, direct empirical evidence for it remains surprisingly limited and the mediating social-psychological mechanisms are poorly understood. Therefore, three experimental studies were conducted to investigate the social function of nonverbal displays of shame in the context of everyday norm violations. In Study 1, participants evaluated ten different expressions of emotion in regard to their affective valence, arousal, dominance, as well as social meaning in the context of norm violations. Displays of shame and sadness were seen as the most similar expressions with respect to the three affective dimensions and were perceived to communicate the perpetrator's understanding of the group's moral standards most effectively. In Study 2, participants read vignettes concerning norm violations and afterward saw a photograph of the perpetrator displaying nonverbal shame, sadness or a neutral expression. Perpetrators' displays of shame and sadness increased perceived moral sense and amplified the observers' willingness to cooperate with the perpetrators. However, neither display weakened the observer's willingness to punish the perpetrator. In Study 3, the perpetrator was shown to display shame, sadness, anger or a neutral expression after getting caught at mild or severe norm violation. The results replicated previous findings but revealed also that the social effects of shame and sadness displays on punitive and cooperative intentions were mediated by different social appraisals. For example, display of shame uniquely reduced punitive intentions by increasing the perpetrator's perceived moral sense, whereas expressions of both shame and sadness evoked empathy in the observers, which in turn reduced the punitive intentions. These results give support to the assumption that nonverbal shame displays serve a unique social function in preventing moral punishment and social exclusion. However, this support is only partial as the social functions of displaying shame are largely parallel to those of expressing sadness in the situation.