Embarrassment over an excessive-drinking session doesn’t necessarily lead to more sobriety.
In a study of alcoholics and relapse rates, researchers found that the more shame-ridden a drinker looked when talking about drinking — interpreted through body language like hunched shoulders — the more likely he or she was to relapse and the more drinks he or she downed during that relapse.
Similarly, some studies in which drunk drivers face those they have hurt or the families of those they have killed find that being confronted with this intensely shameful experience increases recidivism, although this negative effect may depend on the offender’s age and gender and on the way the panel is handled.
“There’s that sense out there that shame is good,” says Tracy. But the new study, which will be published in Clinical Psychological Science, contradicts that. It also shows that greater shame was linked with worse health overall, not just increased drinking.
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