Every month, we scour the scientific literature for interesting studies that have practical implications for therapists working with shame, self-criticism, or compassion. Below are a few of our favorites for this month:
Adolescent neighborhood quality predicts social vigilance in adulthood
Parents of 12-year-olds (on average) from a range of socioeconomic statuses rated the quality of their neighborhoods in terms of community, crime and deterioration, and risk. Thirteen years later, the researchers had these children (who were now about 25 years old) participate in a game of Cyberball, a research task that causes participants to feel like they are being excluded from a game of catch. People whose parents rated their neighborhoods as lower quality when they were children showed higher activation in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex during Cyberball. This pattern of activation likely indicates a higher level of vigilance in response to social exclusion.
Take away: Experiences of exclusion, connection, or danger that might relate to peoples adult experience related to exclusion and shame are not limited to family and school environments. You might also want to assess the client’s childhood neighborhood quality by asking how connected they felt in community, how much crime they experienced in their neighborhood, and how risky it was to live there. A low-quality neighborhood could clue you in that your client may be extra attuned to social threat.
Gonzalez, M. Z., Beckes, L., Chango, J., Allen, J. P., & Coan, J. A. (2015). Adolescent neighborhood quality predicts adult dACC response to social exclusion. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 10(7), 921-928.
Shame predicts both bulimia and social anxiety
In this study, women with social anxiety and bulimia completed measures of social anxiety, bulimia, shame, guilt, and negative affect at two time points, two months apart. Using structural equation modeling, the authors found that shame, but not guilt, predicted both social anxiety and bulimia symptoms.
Take away: According to the authors, “Interventions that focus on decreasing shame could potentially alleviate symptoms of [bulimia] and [social anxiety] in one protocol.”
Levinson, C. A., Byrne, M., & Rodebaugh, T. L. (2016). Shame and guilt as shared vulnerability factors: Shame, but not guilt, prospectively predicts both social anxiety and bulimic symptoms. Eating Behaviors, 22, 188-193.
Shame, but not guilt, contributes to aggression in veterans with PTSD
Posttraumatic stress disorder is linked to aggression, but how this works is not completely understood. In this study, the authors assessed trait shame and trauma-related guilt as mediators of the relationship between PTSD and verbal and physical aggression. They found that shame, but not guilt, partially accounted for the relationship between PTSD and verbal aggression. That is, shame may be part of the reason why PTSD can lead Veterans to be verbally aggressive.
Take away: According to the authors, “These results indicate that it is worthwhile to examine whether addressing shame in PTSD treatment may also reduce verbal aggression in returning veterans.”
Crocker, L. D., Haller, M., Norman, S. B., & Angkaw, A. C. (2016). Shame versus trauma-related guilt as mediators of the relationship between PTSD symptoms and aggression among returning veterans. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 8(4), 520.