Causal Attributions and Self-Conscious Emotions in Coping with Alcoholism

Although there are large individual differences in recovery rates from alcoholism, little is known about the emotional factors that underlie these differences. Studies suggest that shame and guilt, two negative self-conscious emotions (emotions that require self-evaluations), may have divergent effects on a range of health outcomes. Specifically, shame promotes a range of negative outcomes, such as depression, whereas guilt has more positive effects, including empathy and high self-esteem. In addition, two distinct kinds of pride — “authentic” and “hubristic” — may also have divergent effects. Dr. Jessica Tracy is researching the influence of these four emotions on recovery from alcohol addiction. She is testing whether newly-sober members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) who experience guilt and authentic pride, rather than shame and hubristic pride, enjoy greater health and recovery benefits over time. Tracy is also testing whether the thought processes that promote these emotions contribute to health outcomes, and if so, whether specific self-conscious emotions account for these effects. This research is unique in its emphasis on self-conscious emotions, which may play an important role in addiction. The findings could lead to new treatment methods for clinicians, such as targeting these important emotions.