Shame as a Functional and Adaptive Emotion: A Biopsychosocial Perspective

  • Markus van AlphenEmail author


This chapter concentrates on emotion as the essential ingredient for human experience and primary motivating force behind all behaviour: All emotion is thereby both functional and adaptive, not something troublesome that needs to be brought under control. Also shame, one of the negative self-conscious emotions, is then by definition both functional and adaptive. This chapter starts by providing a theoretical synthesis of several old and current emotion theories into what is called a bio-psychosocial model of emotion. This means that emotions have a biological element, an intra-psychological element as well as a social element. Especially the social element of emotion translates directly into social behaviour and thereby forms the basis of the functionality of emotion. The position of shame is then clarified vis-à-vis other negative self-conscious emotions, amongst others by considering the difference between shame, guilt and embarrassment and the typical ways people react to these three. From here on the focus shifts to shame, probably the least understood emotion and one which also has a huge impact on people’s functioning. The whole chapter focuses on emotion and shame in terms of that which all cultures largely have in common rather than on cross-cultural differences, which is the subject of later chapters.


Shame Functional emotion Adaptive emotion Bio-psychosocial perspective Bio-psychosocial model Social behavior Across cultures Positive psychology 



I would like to thank the following people specifically for their contribution to this chapter: Pieter Houtekamer for the figures, Wilma van Heerden for the use of her photographs and Dr. Snežana Stupar for her comments and suggestions.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.HaarlemThe Netherlands

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