Civilizing Humans with Shame: How Early Confucians Altered Inherited Evolutionary Norms through Cultural Programming to Increase Social Harmony

Journal of Cognition and Culture 15 (3-4):254-284 (2015)
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Abstract

To say Early Confucians advocated the possession of a sense of shame as a means to moral virtue underestimates the tact and forethought they used successfully to mold natural dispositions to experience shame into a system of self, familial, and social governance. Shame represents an adaptive system of emotion, cognition, perception, and behavior in social primates for measurement of social rank. Early Confucians understood the utility of the shame system for promotion of cooperation, and they build and deploy cultural modules – e.g., rituals, titles, punishments – with this in mind. These policies result in subtle alterations to components of the evolved shame system that are detectable in data form contemporary cross-cultural psychology that show that populations in the Confucian diaspora have a unique shame profile compared to Western and non-Western populations. The status of Confucian diaspora populations as outliers in the context of shame is partially explained by appeal to the cultural transmission and historical endurance of relevant Early Confucian cultural modules.

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