SHAME & In Internet Age, Americans Most Worried About Shame

by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 7/10/17.

…Many Americans are more worried about their reputation than their conscience.

They worry less about guilt and fear and more about avoiding shame, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

Shame has become particularly powerful in American culture in the internet age, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. A single mistake or embarrassing moment posted on social media can ruin a person’s life.

“What’s our biggest cultural fear?” he asked. “Shame.”

McConnell added, “What’s surprising is not that personal freedom, ambition, and doing the right thing are valued by Americans. It’s that risk to our reputation is what matters most….”

Researchers asked 1,000 Americans three questions to discover their feelings about fear, shame, guilt and other issues.

  • Which of these feelings do you seek to avoid the most?
  • Which of these desires is strongest in your life?
  • Which of these directions do you value the most?

Thirty-eight percent of Americans say they avoid shame the most. Thirty-one percent say guilt, while 30 percent say fear.

Education and age play a role in what feelings Americans avoid. Those with graduate degrees (44 percent) are more likely to avoid shame than those with high school diplomas or less (34 percent). Americans ages 25 to 34 avoid guilt (37 percent) more than those 55 and older (27 percent). Middle-aged Americans—those 35 to 54— are the most likely age group to worry about shame at 44 percent.

Nones—those who claim no religious identity—avoid guilt (35 percent) more than those who are religious (30 percent). Those who are religious avoid shame (39 percent) more than nones (33 percent). Those from non-Christian faiths are most likely to avoid shame (48 percent).

McConnell wonders whether Americans see shame as a bigger threat to their reputation or self-worth than guilt.

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