About this project

This webpage presents information about the social use of the affect shame in a historical and evolutionary perspective. Shaming and humiliating rituals in penal law and folklore have been applied in higher and lower justice over a period of more than 600 years in European history. The adaptive advantages of shame have been discussed recently with reference to ethnographic evidence and game theory. Although shame is deeply rooted in submissive behaviour, it seems to be a relatively new adaptation in primates and is said to be one of the few distinctive features of man from higher apes. In this ongoing study, I use material from historical late medieval and early modern Western and East-Asian societies for a cross-cultural comparison of the prosocial function of shame and shaming rituals in traditional societies.
The use of historical material allows us to observe long-term developments in the application of shaming punishments and therefore may help to better understand the functioning of prosocial emotions in penal justice. Although the ethnographic evidence of traditional societies suggests that penal shaming is a widespread and effective cultural trait based on a specific physiological adaptation of the human brain, higher levels of social organisation and institutionalized use of shaming rituals seem to produce stigmatizing and exclusive effects which may hinder reformation and social reintegration at the same time. For more information please contact Joerg Wettlaufer and have a look at the following presentations and materials:

Recommended links to other resources on the www:              NEW: proceedings published:

  • neu SWR2 Wissen: Schamrot! Eine Kulturgeschichte der Peinlichkeit
  • Jennifer Jacquet über Online- und Offline-Scham (dctp TV 2012)
  • English Translation of Annibale Pocaterra: Two dialogues on shame (1592)
  • Chineses torture / supplices chinoises
  • Criminocorpus: Le portail sur l’histoire des crimes et des peines
  • The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London 1674 to 1834
  • Vortrag "Evolution of Morality", Berlin 2010 (GER/mp3)
  • Interview mit Thilo Jahn, DR Radio Wissen, 2013 (GER/mp3)
  •     Research supported by
    Gerald D. Feldman travel grant


    Micrologus Library

    Schandmaske Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nuernberg, Germany
    Vortrag auf den 6. Göttinger Freilandtagen, 11.-14. Dezember 2007 Goettinger FLT 2007 (EN)
    Arbeitspapier EHBE 2008 Working Paper EHBE 2008 (EN)
    Powerpoint HBES 2008 Kyoto HBES 2008 Kyoto (EN)
    DRW 2008 Heidelberg (GER)
    Stuttgart 2009 (GER)
    Berlin 2010 (GER)
    Paris 2010/2013 (EN)
    Collegium Gissenum 2014 (GER)