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Shame on you

February 7, 2013

Contrary to the belief that causing someone to feel ashamed about themselves will act as a deterrent to their relapse into an undesirable behaviour, researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) have found that the opposite may actually be true.

In an article published in this month’s issue of Clinical Psychological Science, UBC researchers found that newly recovering alcoholics who experienced shame and reflected those feelings in their body language, were much more likely to relapse and resume drinking. In fact, body language that expressed shame (slumped shoulders, collapsing of the chest inward) turned out to be a strong predictor of recidivism amongst the study participants.

Furthermore, investigators also found that the more expressive the body language of shame, the worse the relapse to drinking could be. In other words, the quantity of drinks consumed during the relapse appeared to be related to the amount of shame experienced by the subject.

This study differs from previously conducted research that relied upon self-reporting methods to determine the amount of shame experienced by subjects, and their tendency to relapse. In these studies, written or verbal expressions of shame did not predict the likelihood of relapse.

To read the Toronto Star article, “UBC study suggests addictions may come from shame”, visit the Toronto Star website.

You can also read, “Nonverbal Displays of Shame Predict Relapse and Declining Health in Recovering Alcoholics” in the online journal of Clinical Psychological Science.

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