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Is Shame Necessary?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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I see (and feel) a lot of guilt about the state of the planet (hence the title of this blog). What about guilt’s more public cousin, shame? While my colleagues and I were running experiments on the role of shame and honor in cooperation, I was also asking “Is Shame Necessary?” in the pages of Future Science, Max Brockman’s collection of essays, which is out in print next month. My essay is one of the 18 essays and also appeared online in advance of print publication this month at the Edge site. The essay begins:

Financial executives received almost $20 billion in bonuses in 2008 amid a serious financial crisis and a $245 billion government bailout. In 2008, more than 3 million American homes went into foreclosure because of mortgage blunders those same executives helped facilitate. Citigroup proposed to buy a $50 million corporate jet in early 2009, shortly after receiving $45 billion in taxpayer funds. Days later, President Barack Obama took note in an Oval Office interview. About the jet, he said, “They should know better.” And the bonuses, he said, were “shameful.”

Read the full essay here.

Watch President Obama talk about “the height of irresponsibility” and “shameful” behavior of Wall St. bankers who “should know better”:

Jennifer Jacquet About the Author: Jennifer Jacquet ( is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia researching cooperation and the tragedy of the commons. Follow on Twitter @guiltyplanet.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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