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Q: Evolutionary aspect on the value of guilt, doubt and shame ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Evolutionary aspect on the value of guilt, doubt and shame
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: qpet-ga
List Price: $40.00
Posted: 10 Jan 2003 13:35 PST
Expires: 09 Feb 2003 13:35 PST
Question ID: 141373
From the evlutionary viewpoint, what is the value of guilt, doubt and shame?

Request for Question Clarification by czh-ga on 10 Jan 2003 13:40 PST
Hi qpet-ga,

You've asked a very interesting series of questions. In one of the
clarifications you said, "with any of these questions it is hard for
me to
understand the effort involved, so I usually price them relative to
the importance to my project." Can you tell us something more about
the nature of your project? We could do a better job on the research
if we understood how the pieces fit. I also have to admit that you've
piqued my curiosity. :-)


Clarification of Question by qpet-ga on 10 Jan 2003 18:48 PST
Hi czh-ga,
I am writing a book on "quality of life". This is not going to be a
self-help book-there are enough of those (and to a large degree
useless).I am looking at it from a philosophical viewpiont. (Some of
my future questions will center around different aspects of
philosophy). I am using the answers to support certain statments I am
making in the book. Thanks to you guys I am saving myself from a few
month of "hard labor". (At this point I'm about halfway through the
list of questions).
Until soon,
Subject: Re: Evolutionary aspect on the value of guilt, doubt and shame
Answered By: juggler-ga on 10 Jan 2003 20:09 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars

From an evolutionary viewpoint, a "valuble" trait is one that assisted
the species in achieving survival and reproductive success.

Many evolutionary psychologists and sociobiologists theorize that
guilt, doubt and shame had value because these things helped human
beings to engage in and maintain social relationships. Guilt, shame
and doubt cause people to question their own behavior. From an
evolutionary standpoint, these things acted as a brake on humans'
inclination to act in way that would have negatively affected their
social relationships. Self-doubt may cause an individual to modify or
refrain from "anti-social" behavior. Evolutionary pyschologists
suggest that emotions such as guilt and shame are components of what
they call "reciprocal altruism."

"Reciprocal altruism, a decision is made to assume behavior that
benefits another person who is not related, provided that demographic
and social conditions exist to make it probable that the person who
benefits someone else will in turn be the object of beneficial
altruistic acts on the part of the beneficiary. These biologically
founded and evolutionary mechanisms perhaps represent the foundation
for many social feelings, including shame (a useful mechanism that
can, in specific situations or in particular constitutions, become a
From: "Shame and Psychopathology" 
By Stefano Pallanti, MD, and Leonardo Quercioli, MD

Here are a number of sources on the subject:

"Emotions such as trust, loyalty, guilt and shame play an obvious role
in mediating the competitive social interactions that were the focus
of most research in human sociobiology. Numerous sociobiologists made
brief comments to the effect that that moral emotions must have
evolved as psychological mechanisms to implement evolutionary stable
strategies... Frank suggests that emotions such as rage and
vengefulness evolved to allow organisms to engage in credible
deterrence, threatening self-destructive aggression to deter a more
powerful aggressor. Conversely, emotions such as love and guilt
evolved to allow organisms to engage in reciprocal altruism in
situations where no retaliation is possible if one partner fails to
Source: "Evolution of Emotion" by Paul E. Griffiths
International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences
(Elsevier 2001)
Hosted by University of Pittsburgh:

"Many authors propose that guilt evolved in order to a) dissuade
individuals from harming beneficial relationships and/or b) motivate
them to repair damage done to such relationships. One difficulty with
these explanations is that, even granted the existence of cognitive
biases, selection should favor the ability to surreptitiously cheat,
yet guilt motivates reparation even when the transgression is
undiscovered. This raises the possibility that guilt, while premised
on emotions such as regret and sympathy, may be a product of cultural
rather than biological evolution. The latter explanation accounts for
the absence of universal facial or postural expressions of guilt,
signals which would be expected if the capacity to feel guilt had been
selected due to the advantages of reassuring others of one's good
At a larger scale, conformity to cultural values, beliefs, and
practices makes behavior predictable and allows for the advent of
complex coordination and cooperation; shame and pride motivate an
assessment of prevailing norms, an awareness of the presence of
observers, and conformity to pervasive expectations when under
Source: The Evolution of Human Emotions
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Evolution, 
Mark Pagel, ed., hosted by UCLA:

"So, what is the benefit of shame? Quoting Nathanson, shame 'is a
biological system by which the organism controls its affective output
so that it will not remain interested or content when it may not be
safe to do so.... It protects an organism from its growing avidity for
positive affect.' Too much of a good thing. Consider that shame
evolved under conditions where survival depended on humans banding
together and functioning in groups, the better to deal with bad
weather and wild animals and so forth. (Such is still the case, though
not so obviously). If you were bad for the group, the group would
banish you and leave you out to die. Shame, as a powerful mechanism
for social control, protects the group from dangerous deviants and
protects individuals in the group from the tendency to deviate."
Source: "Shame" By James M. Shultz, M.D., hosted by

"Guilt and reparative altruism - If cheating is detected then
reciprocity will end, at considerable cost to the cheater, therefore
'the cheater should be selected to make up for his misdeed and to show
convincing evidence that he does not plan to continue his cheating
sometime in the future'. In order to motivate a reparative gesture
'guilt has been selected for in humans partly in order to motivate the
cheater to compensate his misdeed and to behave reciprocally in the
future, and thus to prevent the rupture of reciprocal relationships'."
From:"Evolutionary Developmental Psychopathology" by Ian Pitchford,
hosted by

"Consider guilt. Hamilton's (1964) rule defines the selection
pressures that acted to build the circuits governing how organisms are
motivated to allocate benefits between self and kin...  Imagine a
mechanism that evolved to allocate food according to Hamilton's rule,
situated (for example) in a hunter-gatherer woman. The mechanism in
the woman has been using the best information available to her to
weight the relative values of the meat to herself and her sister,
perhaps reassuring her that it is safe to be away from her sister for
awhile. The sudden discovery that her sister, since she was last
contacted, has been starving and has become sick functions as an
information-dense situation allowing the recalibration of the
algorithms that weighted the relative values of the meat to self and
sister. The sister's sickness functions as a cue that the previous
allocation weighting was in error and that the variables need to be
reweighted-including all of the weightings embedded in habitual action
sequences. We believe that guilt functions as an emotion mode
specialized for recalibration of regulatory variables that control
trade-offs in welfare between self and other (Tooby & Cosmides,
"Evolutionary Psychology and the Emotions" by Leda Cosmides & John
Tooby, hosted by UC Santa Barbara:

More Sources:

"Why So Social an Animal? A Functionality Model of Interdependency"
by Donelson R. Forsyth, hosted by Virginia Commomwealth University:

"Evo-Devo Meets the Mind: Towards a developmental evolutionary
by Paul E. Griffiths, hosted by Duke University

"MORALITY AND RECIPROCAL ALTRUISM," hosted by the unity of

"Evolutionary Psychology Evolution of Mind," hosted by Harvard

"Through a Glass, Darwinian: The Evolutionary Origins of Pride and
Shame," hosted by University of Louisian - Monroe:

I hope this helps. If any of this is unclear, please use the "request
clarification" feature. Thanks.

Clarification of Answer by juggler-ga on 10 Jan 2003 20:12 PST
The first sentence should have read: "...'valuable' trait..."
Sorry about that.

Clarification of Answer by juggler-ga on 10 Jan 2003 21:46 PST
Thank you very much for the generous tip!

I notice that I omitted my search strategy, so I'll include it here.

search terms: guilt, shame, doubt, evolution, "natural selection",
"guilt evolved", "shame evolved", sociobiology, "evolutionary
psychology", "reciprocal altruism"

Thanks again.
qpet-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $20.00
Clearly a five star answer!! Great summation, comprehensive sourses!!

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