Who Am I, and Who Do I Strive to Be? Applying a Theory of Self-Conscious Emotions to Medical Education

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Abstract

The self-conscious emotions of shame, guilt, and pride are a distinct set of cognitively complex, powerful, and ubiquitous emotions that arise when an individual engages in self-evaluation. Currently, little is known about the influence or outcomes of self-conscious emotions in medical learners. In this article, the authors present a leading theory of self-conscious emotions that outlines the appraisals and attributions that give rise to and differentiate shame, guilt, and two forms of pride. The authors then apply the theory to three relevant topics in medical education: perfectionism, professional identity formation, and motivation. In doing so, the authors present novel ways of viewing these topics through the lens of self-conscious emotion, suggest areas of future research, and outline a framework for emotional resilience training. Ultimately, the goal of this article is to highlight the fundamental nature of shame, guilt, and pride, which the authors believe are underappreciated and understudied in medical education, and to inform future empirical study on the role that these emotions might play in medical education. Additionally, from a practical standpoint, this article aims to encourage educators and learners to recognize self-conscious emotions in themselves and their colleagues, and to begin developing more resilient approaches to learning—approaches that acknowledge and confront shame, guilt, and pride in medical education.

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