Physiological Correlates of Self-Conscious Emotions

Sally S. Dickerson

in The Oxford Handbook of Psychoneuroimmunology

Published in print July 2012 | ISBN: 9780195394399
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Physiological Correlates of Self-Conscious Emotions

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Self-conscious emotions, such as shame and embarrassment, are painful and intense emotions, yet they have been understudied within psychoneuroimmunology. However, several studies have examined the biological correlates of self-conscious emotions, and far more have demonstrated that the social-evaluative stressors, which can induce these emotions, are potent elicitors of physiological reactivity. Self-conscious emotions—and the social contexts that elicit them—can be associated with immunological changes, including increases in pro-inflammatory cytokine activity. These conditions can also lead to increases in cortisol and sympathetic nervous system activity, which have implications for immunological functioning. The self-conscious emotional and physiological changes can occur in concert under social-evaluative threat, leading to correlations between the affective and physiological responses. Future research should continue to examine the specificity of the associations between self-conscious emotions and physiological outcomes, the role of the social context in eliciting these changes, and the health implications of these effects.

Keywords: social-evaluative threat; self-conscious emotion; cortisol; pro-inflammatory cytokine; stress; shame; guilt; cardiovascular reactivity

Article.  9263 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Health Psychology ; Social Psychology

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