Examining the relationships between shame, guilt, attributions, and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder among male Vietnam War veterans

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Counseling Psychology

First Committee Member

Blaine J. Fowers - Committee Chair


The purpose of this study was to examine if shame, guilt, causal attributions, and world assumption beliefs are related to PTSD symptom severity among a population of male Vietnam War combat veterans (N = 180). This study sought to specifically answer if shame proneness, guilt proneness, and social cognitions are related to PTSD symptom severity among former combatants thirty years following their experience of war. Participants were recruited from community Vietnam veteran service organizations who completed self-report measures. Using simple regression analysis, the results of this study found a positive correlation for shame proneness, but negative correlation for guilt proneness, related to PTSD symptom severity. Internal causal attributions and benevolence, meaningfulness, and self-worth world assumptions were also significantly associated with PTSD. Moderation and mediation analyses were conducted in order to examine how these variables function together to contribute to the maintenance of PTSD. No evidence was found for shame or guilt proneness as possible moderators between combat exposure level and PTSD. However, shame proneness was observed as a mediator variable for, (a) benevolence of the world assumptions and PTSD, (b) selfworth world assumptions and PTSD, and (c) level of combat exposure and PTSD. Conclusions drawn from this study highlight important underlying psychological affective and cognitive processes that help explain variations in psychological adjustment among combat veterans. Specifically, this study found shame and social cognitions to be significant processing factors related to the development and maintenance of PTSD. For example, negative world assumptions appear to contribute to one being shame prone that leads to increased PTSD symptom severity. Ironically, guilt was observed to be an emotional process related to adaptive coping for psychological trauma. This study requires replication and expansion among other populations in order to gain further insight into the relationships observed. It is recommended that future studies continue to attend to this area of research utilizing improved research method and design. Investigators and clinicians alike should consider the development of shame based cognitive interventions for clinical application.


Psychology, Clinical; Psychology, Personality

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