Research: DICKERSON and co-workers,

Listed in Issue 100


DICKERSON and co-workers, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA,, describe the immunological effects of induced shame and guilt.


It is assumed that shame could be associated with elevations in proinflammatory activity of a class of peptides called cytokines. This randomized controlled study aimed to determine if inducing self-blame would lead to increases in shame and guilt as well as increased proinflammatory cytokine activity.


Volunteers were randomly assigned to write about traumatic experiences in which they blamed themselves (31 volunteers) or about neutral experiences (18 volunteers) during three 20-minute sessions over one week. Tumour necrosis factor-alpha receptor levels, a marker of proinflammatory cytokine activity, beta2-microglobulin levels, and cortisol levels (all in saliva) as well as emotions were assessed before and after writing.


Participants in self-blame showed an increase in guilt and shame as well as an increase in the marker for proinflammatory cytokine activity compared to those in the control group. Cortisol and beta2-microglobulin were unaffected by the experience. The volunteers with the strongest feelings of shame showed the greatest increase in proinflammatory cytokine marker, whereas levels of guilt and general negative emotion were unrelated to cytokine changes.


The data suggest that feelings people have about themselves can cause changes in inflammatory products, and that shame may have specific immunological correlates.


Dickerson SS, Kemeny ME, Aziz N, Kim KH, Fahey JL. Immunological effects of induced shame and guilt. Psychosomatic Medicine 66 (1): 124-131, Jan-Feb 2004.

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