Shame, Guilt, and Depressive Symptoms: A Meta-Analytic Review

Sangmoon Kim, Ryan Thibodeau, Randall S. Jorgensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

553 Scopus citations


Recent theoretical and empirical work has facilitated the drawing of sharp conceptual distinctions between shame and guilt. A clear view of these distinctions has permitted development of a research literature aimed at evaluating the differential associations of shame and guilt with depressive symptoms. This study quantitatively summarized the magnitude of associations of shame and guilt with depressive symptoms. Two hundred forty-two effect sizes were obtained from 108 studies employing 22,411 participants. Shame showed significantly stronger associations with depressive symptoms (r = 43) than guilt (r = 28). However, the association of shame and depressive symptoms was statistically indistinguishable from the associations of 2 maladaptive variants of guilt and depressive symptoms (contextual-maladaptive guilt, involving exaggerated responsibility for uncontrollable events, r = 39; generalized guilt, involving " free-floating" guilt divorced from specific contexts, r = 42). Other factors also moderated the effects. External shame, which involves negative views of self as seen through the eyes of others, was associated with larger effect sizes (r = 56) than internal shame (r = 42), which involves negative views of self as seen through one's own eyes. Depressive symptom measures that invoked the term guilt yielded stronger associations between guilt and depressive symptoms (r = 33) than depressive symptom measures that did not (r = 21). Age, sex, and ethnicity (proportion of Whites to Asians) did not moderate the effects. Although these correlational data are ambiguous with respect to their causal interpretation, results suggest that shame should figure more prominently in understandings of the emotional underpinnings of depressive symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)68-96
Number of pages29
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011


  • Depressive symptoms
  • Guilt
  • Meta-analysis
  • Shame

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Shame, Guilt, and Depressive Symptoms: A Meta-Analytic Review'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this