Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

David Lisak

Second Advisor

Sherree Conrad

Third Advisor

Drew Westen


Research has indicated that men with histories of childhood abuse are at greater risk for perpetration in adulthood. However, the reasons why some survivors perpetrate while others do not remain unclear. This dissertation investigated the role of shame as a possible factor in these negative outcomes. Based on a growing body of research demonstrating a relationship between higher levels of shame and increased anger and aggression, it was hypothesized that "shame-proneness" in survivors of childhood abuse would significantly predict perpetration outcomes. Furthermore, it was contended that shame would continue to predict perpetration after controlling for competing predictor variables (such as severity of abuse, hostile attributional biases, attachment style, and object relations). In that many of these other variables can also be conceptualized as moderating shame-proneness, it was hypothesized that the interactions among shame and several of these other factors would provide the best overall model for predicting such outcomes.

Two studies were designed to test these hypotheses. Study 1 used self-report instruments to assess shame in a sample of 245 men at an urban university campus. It found (contrary to what was hypothesized) that lower levels of shame significantly predicted perpetration in abused men. Furthermore, lower levels of shame continued to predict perpetration after controlling for severity of abuse and attachment style. Study 2 used the Thematic Apperception Test to assess shame in a sample of 49 men at the same campus and found (as hypothesized) that higher levels of shame significantly predicted such outcomes. Shame continued to predict perpetration after controlling for hostile attributions, severity of abuse, and impaired object relations.

While these results at first appear contradictory, it was argued that upon closer examination they actually complement each other, pointing toward a more complex and integrated understanding of the role of shame in perpetration. They suggest that the combination of being consciously "shameless" and unconsciously "shame-prone" is what puts men with abuse histories at greater risk for perpetration.


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