Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology





First Advisor

Lynn Pasquerella


An empirical investigation of shame was conducted, using a structural equation modeling approach with a sample of 750 undergraduates. The general model being tested involved three sets of latent constructs: functioning as the independent variable, shame as the mediating variable, and five psychosocial outcomes as the dependent variables. Five models were generated, one per outcome variable. Three of the outcomes were maladaptive ones: substance use, depression, and suicide ideation. The remaining two, risk-taking propensity and achievement orientation, were more neutrally toned. It was hypothesized that family dysfunctioning would be directly related to shame; and in turn, shame would be directly related to maladaptive outcomes. No significant relationship between shame and the two neutral outcomes was expected.

The findings obtained supported the basic hypotheses, and produced variations according to outcome and across genders. Higher levels of family dysfunctioning were correlated with higher levels of shame for both genders. For women, shame was significantly related to substance use, depression, and suicide ideation. This was true for men with depression and suicide ideation, but not for substance use, suggesting that affective state is linked to substance use more for women than for men. In addition to the mediating effects of shame, there were direct links between level of family functioning and suicide ideation for women, and both depression and suicide ideation for men. Perceived level of family functioning was not significantly related to substance use for either gender.

For men, greater shame was correlated with decreased risk-taking propensity, suggesting that shame may be associated with behavioral constriction for men. Neither shame nor family functioning appears to play a role in risk-taking propensity for women. The achievement orientation model yielded poor results for the measurement model, rendering suspect any conclusions based on the structural model. A more precise conceptualization of this construct is needed in order to examine the structural relationships between family functioning, shame, and achievement orientation.

These findings support the notion that shame is a significant concomitant of maladaptive outcomes, providing empirical support for theoretical and clinical viewpoints. They point to the importance of integrating shame more fully into models of psychopathology.



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