The Psychobiology of Trait Shame in Young Women: Extending the Social Self Preservation Theory

Nicolas Rohleder*, Edith Chen, Jutta M. Wolf, Gregory E. Miller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Objective: The social self preservation theory (SSPT) proposes that social evaluative threat evokes the emotion of shame, which then shapes a coordinated psychobiological response. While this is supported in acute stress studies, there is no data on chronic experiences of shame. Design: We investigated the association of trait shame with activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), and regulation of inflammation in n = 56 young women. Main Outcome Measures: Daily profiles of salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase were assessed as indices of HPA axis and SNS activity, respectively. Inflammatory regulation was assessed by lipopolysaccharide-stimulated production and glucocorticoid inhibition of interleukin-6 in vitro. Results: Trait shame was associated with SNS (r = .49; p < .001), but not HPA activity (r = .14; ns). Shame was associated with inflammatory activity (r = .35; p = .006) and glucocorticoid sensitivity (r = -0.43; p = .001). Relationships were not mediated by HPA and SNS activity. Conclusions: Results support SSPT predictions with respect to chronic shame experience and inflammation. Results further suggest the importance of SNS activation related to shame, and the possibility that HPA activation may be limited acute experiences of shame.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)523-532
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2008


  • glucocorticoid sensitivity
  • inflammatory activity
  • shame
  • social evaluative threat
  • social self preservation theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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