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Title: The Trajectory of Self-Conscious Emotions in Young Adulthood: Pilot Study 1

Ethics Approval Number: 2011/086

Researcher: Eleanor Woodford

Self-conscious emotions (SCEs) play a fundamental role in the motivating and regulating of an individual’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours (Campos, 1995; Fischer & Tangney, 1995). Cultures differ greatly in their notions of the self (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Filial piety (xiao) is a central concept in Confucianism that relates to important ideas about how children should treat their parents. It embraces material and emotional requirements, such as support, memorialising, attendance, deference, compliance, respect and love, and its structures are often generalised to apply to authority relationships beyond the family (Yeh & Bedford, 2003). In a study that studied the trajectory of SCEs throughout the lifespan, Orth et al. (2010) found that the period of early adulthood was the only period during which large differences in the trajectories of all three constructs – shame, guilt and pride were observed.

The present study aimed to qualitatively investigate similarities and differences in shame, guilt, and pride, as assessed in individuals of either Australian-Caucasian or Singaporean-Asian ethnicity. The present study investigated the cultural sensitivity of the TOSCA-3, by means of conducting a semi-structured qualitative interview-version of the TOSCA-3. The qualitative version consisted of eight scenarios that were similar to those of the TOSCA-3, and allowed participants to expand on their responses. Participants consisted of five Australians and five Singaporeans. The mean age of the participants was 26.3 years. Five of the participants were women, and five were men. The Singaporean sample consisted of three young women and two young men. The Australian sample consisted of two young women and three young men. The semi-structured interview consisted of eight hypothetical scenarios that were associated with shame, pride and guilt. The semi-structured interview consisted of descriptive questions, whereby participants were asked to provide a general account of their feelings towards the scenarios. The data was analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) (Smith, 1995; Smith and Osborn, 2003). IPA is a qualitative research method that combines phenomenology with hermeneutics.

In line with cross-cultural studies that have found greater levels of shame and guilt for individuals from collectivist cultures compared to individuals of individualistic cultures (Kashima et al., 1995; Markus & Kitayama, 1998; Miller, 2002), the present study found a consistency with the theme of shame and guilt to be reported by Singaporean participants. The present study found a general trend whereby Singaporeans emphasised a final reparative behaviour that was predominantly motivated by guilt, with a specific motive of repairing broken social relationships. This finding is consistent with the literature that has documented the collectivistic self to be defined by the individual’s social roles and relationships, whereby the opinions of others have been found to be greatly influential on the individual’s sense of self (Kashima et al., 1995; Markus & Kitayama, 1998). In contrast to their Singaporean counterparts, Australian participants accounted for feelings of guilt that stemmed from an external locus of control, expressing regret at their committed wrongdoing, rather than at their own self. Authentic pride was found to be generally consistent for both the Australian and Singaporean sample across the scenarios. In addition, the present study’s findings also supported previous research that observed a greater likelihood for Asians to experience hubristic pride than Caucasians.

The concept of filial piety emerged as a pivotal cross-cultural theme that had specific relevance to shame and guilt, as well as to the Singaporean culture. Singaporeans accounted for intense feelings of shame and guilt in response to situations that involved their wrongdoing in relation to their parents, or towards figures of authority. This contrasted greatly against the Australian sample, which related their guilt to stem from a behaviour that was inconsistent with certain positive self-attributes. In line with research that has documented the sheer importance and prevalence of filial piety in Asian cultures, the present study found that Singaporeans related extensive importance with regard to feeling directly responsible for their parents’ happiness.

Future studies should further investigate some of the key findings of the present study. Specifically, the relation of filial piety to the experience of shame and guilt in collectivist cultures should be further explored with more in-depth and empirical analyses. Certain potential limitations of the present study need to be addressed. It should be noted that the small sample size of participants resulted in the need for cautious interpretations of the data with regard to SCEs and gender within a specific nationality. Researchers have highlighted the need for a particular focus of the experience of shame, guilt and pride during the period of early adulthood, and the qualitative nature of the study allowed for a richer understanding of shame, guilt and pride than a quantitative measure alone would have been able to achieve. Finally, the present study affirmed the robustness of the TOSCA-3 as an efficient and effective primary measure of SCEs across both individualistic and collectivist cultures.