First Study: Shame and its Connection to Alcohol Relapse
1. Introduction: Feeling shame about a wrongdoing is thought to help individuals rectify the bad behavior that caused the shame in the first place. Contrary to this belief, researchers have begun studying if instead, shame could cause a negative effect on individuals. The reason for this is that individuals who experience shame usually tend to seclude themselves from the people around them because of the fear of being judged for their past mistakes. For this study, it is essential to point out that shame is not an easy emotion to measure. The simplest way to go for this study would be to only use a self-report test and let the participants measure themselves their level of shame. Instead, this study will also analyze shame by examining the participants’ body language when asked a delicate question about a past experience. For this study, the focus will be in figuring out if displays of shame can positively predict relapse as well as future health problems on newly sober individuals.
2. Materials and Methods:
One hundred and five newly sober individuals (54% women) were recruited from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) to take part in a two-wave study. For this study a new sober was defined as a person who hasn’t had a drink within a 6 month period. The participants completed a series of surveys over the two sessions of the study. Sessions were carried out approximately 4 months away from each other. The reason for choosing 4 months was that most relapses usually happen within the first 3 months of being sober.
At wave 1, participants were subjected to a session which consisted of them answering to the following question: “Describe the last time you drank and felt badly about it” (Randles) Participants had to answer this question while facing an interviewer and a video camera that was recording their responses. The footage of the interview was to be later used to analyze the nonverbal behavior of the participants. Five research assistants were in charge of examining the participants’ responses. The research assistants had no previous knowledge of the hypotheses and were instructed to watch (without audio) the first 10 seconds of each interview. This short segment of the interview was analyzed because participants were expected to express their strongest feelings of shame during the first 10 seconds of each interview. Also, coding the same short amount of time for all participants allowed the researchers to minimize the total amount of coding performed (Randles). Shame displays were coded by examining two specific behaviors in the participants. The first observed behavior was chest narrowing and the second observed behavior was shoulders slumping. All five research assistants rated all responses to ensure greater accuracy and prevent personal conceptions to influence the rating.
In addition to the previous assessment, participants completed the State Shame and Guilt Scale, a self-report measure of momentary shame and guilt experiences, following their verbal responses. Guilt was not expected to predict relapse or health problems but it was included and treated as a predictor because doing so allowed the researchers to control for shared variance between guilt and shame. Researchers were able to obtain measures of guilt-free shame and shame-free guilt by regressing the State Shame and Guilt Shame subscales onto each other and saving the standardized residuals (Randles).
During Wave 1, participants also completed tests that measured variables that might account for relations between shame and future drinking or health problems. The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale was used to examine self-esteem, the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule was used to examine positive and negative affect, and the Test of Self-Conscious was used to examine the state of mind of the participants regarding shame proneness. The Alcohol Dependence Scale (ADS) was another