The Two Faces of Shame

The Huffington Post:

Twenty-four-year-old Shawn Gementera was caught red-handed pilfering letters from private mailboxes along San Francisco’s Fulton Street. Mail theft is a serious crime, and it was not Gementera’s first run-in with the law. Even so, the judge opted for a lenient sentence — just two months in jail and three years of supervised release. But the supervised release came with an unusual condition.

Gementera’s sentence required him to stand in front of a San Francisco post office, wearing a sandwich board with these words in large letters: “I stole mail. This is my punishment.” The convicted thief fought this provision, arguing that such public humiliation was cruel and unusual punishment, but he lost his appeal. The court argued that public humiliation was the point — not humiliation for the sake of humiliation, but as a deterrent against future crime.

The answers to these questions are unknown, and indeed the questions have not been well studied — at least not in the most relevant population, convicted criminals. Until now, that is. George Mason University clinical psychologist June Tangney recently conducted a study of shame in jail inmates, following them from soon after incarceration to about a year after their release. She wanted to see if inmates who experienced shame were more or less likely to commit more crimes later on. More specifically, she wanted to compare the effects of shame and another self-conscious emotion, guilt, in rehabilitating criminals.

Read the whole story: The Huffington Post

Wray Herbert is an author and award-winning journalist who writes two popular blogs for APS, We’re Only Human and Full Frontal Psychology. Follow Wray on Twitter @wrayherbert.

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