Humiliation is a strong negative emotion that arises when a person is forced to internalize an unjust devaluation of the self. Based on theory positing agency as a key factor for self-esteem, we conducted three experiments to investigate whether enhancing the agentic capacity of people facing humiliating situations down-regulated the intensity of the negative emotional experience they felt. More precisely, we tested whether agency, understood as an active behavioral response given by the victims to the perpetrators in potentially humiliating situations, reduced the extent to which the victims internalized a devaluation of the self in those situations and the level of humiliation that they felt. To manipulate agency, we used both an imagined scenario and a realistic setting in which students received a negative evaluation regarding their academic performance and were then encouraged to imagine (Experiment 1) or to actually respond versus not respond to the evaluator (Experiments 2 and 3). In the last two experiments, we additionally manipulated the hostile tone used by the evaluator, resulting in an agency (high vs. low) × hostility (high vs. low) between-subjects design. In all the experiments, we measured the two key appraisals of humiliation (i.e., internalization and injustice), humiliation, shame, and anger. Across the experiments, agency significantly reduced humiliation, and this effect was mediated by the empowering effect that agency had in reducing internalization. Moreover, the results showed that agency affected humiliation in particular, more than shame or anger.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research and the preparation of this article were supported by the Research Fund Grant PID2019-108478GB-I00 from the Spanish State Agency for Research—Ministry of Economy, Industry, and Competitiveness .
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- Self-conscious emotions