The Information Threat Theory of Shame

The Information Threat Theory of Shame

The Information Threat Theory of Shame

In one of my previous articles, I spoke about the Attributional Theory of Shame but today, I want to talk on The Information Threat Theory of Shame

From an evolutionary perspective, shame is a defense against devaluation. In essence, it is designed to achieve three things

  1. Discourage a person from doing anything in which the cost of devaluation is higher than the benefit
  2. Prevents any wrong information about a person get to the ears of another
  3. Minimize the consequences of devaluation whenever it happens

If an action would lead to others devaluing you, shame automatically picks up that action and process the possible threat/consequences of that action and the extent to which the threat can cause damage to the self.

So, in other to decrease/limit the possibility of others having a negative belief about us, shame shows up. This theory is totally the opposite of the attributional theory of shame which claims that the individual does not suffer shame because of what others think about them. Rather, they feel shame when the individual sees the self in a negative light i.e. when they see themselves in a negative light.

Our ancestors lived in small, cooperative social groups that lived by hunting and gathering. In this world, your life depended on others valuing you enough to give you and your children food, protection, and care. The more you are valued by the individuals with whom you live — as a cooperative partner, potential mate, skilled hunter, formidable ally, trustworthy friend, helpful relative, dangerous enemy — the more weight they will put on your welfare in making decisions. You will be helped more and harmed less.

John Tooby, a professor of anthropology at UC Santa Barbara

The information threat theory of shame makes a lot of sense because our ancestors depended highly on close cooperation and for close cooperation to be achieved, everyone had to put on their best behavior and abide to the rules and regulations – this is the proof that you can be trusted.

Once the community loses their trust in you, you are in danger. For instance, we know that these guys practiced the barter system, right? The moment you are excommunicated from the tribe, how do you survive knowing fully well that other tribes will not receive you as well because you already have a bad reputation.

It also means that there is no one to look over your shoulders. If your wife is pregnant, who will help you deliver the baby? If your husband is injured who will help you attend to his wound? If you have children, how do they socialize? So, there are just a lot of things to think about before earning a bad reputation.

When people devalue you, they put less weight on your welfare. They help you less and harm you more. This makes any information that would lead others to devalue you a threat to your welfare.

 Leda Cosmides, professor of psychology 

So, the work of shame was simply to dissuade you from breaking the rules or doing something terribly so you do not lose your value amongst community members.

to be continued…


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