So much depends on language. Drs. O'Connor and Berry present an elegant description of their meticulous studies of guilt and shame in psychopathology, descriptions from which it would be difficult to draw any conclusion other than the importance of both adult emotions. Much of the debate about the relative importance of the two emotions is a legacy of the Freudian era, during which it was stated that guilt over the wish to destroy/defeat the same-gender parent was a primary emotion, and shame appeared only much later when the child failed to repudiate the exhibitionistic drive. The more recent work on shame is also a legacy from the psychoanalytic era, since psychoanalytic technique uses shame (the normal reaction when the person with whom you are talking greets your utterance with silence) as a tool to increase the flow of "material." None of us who studies shame has ever meant to discredit the importance of guilt; rather, we have taken care to provide rigorous definitions of all the emotions involved in intrapsychic and interpersonal function.
I have spent much of the past 25 years thinking about emotion---emotion itself as well as the many named adult emotions. One of the things that puzzled me was the observation that people who took the alkaloid derived the Indian plant Rauwolfia serpentina described feelings of guilt that started within minutes of ingestion. As an endocrinologist, I had been aware that hyperthyroid patients described unremitting anxiety, much as did people who took too much Sudafed. Patients with primarily guilt-related depressions responded quite well to the tricyclic antidepressants, while patients with primarily shame-related depressions responded only to the MAOI and the SSRI compounds. A competent modern explanation of emotion simply had to take all this into consideration.
As you may be aware from my books on the subject, or from the material posted elsewhere on BOL, I have asked that we consider adult emotion to be the result of three separate but interrelated matters that I considered analogous to the mechanism of the personal computer. Just as the computer has hardware, firmware (built-in programs), and software, I suggested that people have hardware (our biological nature, including neurotransmitters, the muscles and skin of the face, sweat, etc.), firmware (a group of nine innate physiological protocols as described in the past century by Darwin and brought into modern language by Tomkins), and software (the contribution of our experience, and all the cognitive components that includes). I wanted a theory that could explain the adult human with as few pieces as possible, sort of like the topology problem of the smallest number of colors that are needed to draw a map on which no two adjoining countries have the same color. I think that all emotional experience, from birth to death, can be explained by the operation of the nine innate affects described by Tomkins.
In the work I have studied, the innate affect of shame is detectable as early as 2 months of age; in one report the innate affect was detected at 2 weeks. In no way do I intend this to represent the emotion we know in adults as shame, but a physiological protocol that causes gaze aversion, facial redness, a loss of attention to the previously interesting or enjoyable object, and a loss of affective communication. In a number of books and articles, I have suggested that the adult experience of shame forms over the first 2-3 years of life, building from this basic physiological protocol to add in the many situations in which it can be triggered, as well as the auxiliary mechanisms of self-dissmell and self-disgust.
Most of those who have studied shame and guilt use the system of definition established by Helen Block Lewis in 1971 as the result of a great deal of experimental work. Lewis pointed out that both emotions are painful punishments meted out by some internal mechanism. She suggested that we consider shame as the internal punishment associated with the nature of the self, and guilt as a related punishment indicating that we have done something that violates rules or norms. Shame, she stated, is self-loaded, while guilt is action-loaded. A decade later, Wurmser (1981) made essentially the same suggestion, as well as the useful idea that we think in terms of a "shame family of emotions" that included embarrassment, mortification, self-hate, the experience of being put down, and the experience of being treated with contempt. I know of no authority who has changed those definitions in recent years.
You cite the common observation that babies (even in a newborn nursery) will cry on hearing the cry of another. Since crying or sobbing is defined as the audible part of the affect distress-anguish, and since all of the innate affects are well known to produce affective resonance, I see no need to claim that babies cry because they are guilty when another infant cries. And while it is quite true that very small children attempt to reduce maternal distress affect, I cannot see any link between that distress affect and guilt (unless you wish to overturn generations of work on the relation between interaffectivity and empathy in favor of guilt). Your descriptions of chimpanzee altrusism may also be explained in terms of actions taken to reduce mutualized distress rather than anything to do with guilt or shame. We would have no disagreement about the role of both guilt and shame in group cohesion as suggested by Helen Block Lewis (1981, 1987). In my own work, I have suggested that the innate affect shame forms a fusion product with the innate affect fear as soon as the infant is capable of learning that its actions can bring punishment. I find this an adequate explanation of the fact that people rarely blush when guilty, for fear produces facial blanching that can remove the blush quite well. Guilt, the fusion product of shame affect and fear affect, then goes off on its own developmental path for the rest of our lives, while shame as a fusion of shame affect, self-dissmell, and self-disgust continues to built its own set of ideoaffective complexes throughout life.
I suspect that we have little argument about the degree of psychopathology associated with guilt, although we may agree to disagree about the degree to which shame is involved in adult psychopathology. Although one might say that the harm caused to others by being better than or at a higher status than them is an action against them and therefore a source of guilt, I think that those others experience shame that we have not caused by an action but by our being, by the comparison they make between them and us; in this sense, I suspect that the unpleasant emotion experienced by survivors is more a matter of shame than guilt. Nevertheless, such distinctions are less than useful when trying to determine the primacy of innate affects; they are about emotions that appear late in human development and doubtless contain cognitive components that involve significant amounts of both shame and guilt.
If our discussion about the nature of human emotion shifts from a debate about how emotion is formed in each of us to a turf dispute about which group of psychologists has better tests, then we are all in terrible trouble. With Michael Franz Basch, I view psychotherapy as applied developmental theory, and look always to the path taken by the subcortical contribution of innate affect and the neocortical contribution of cognition. I look forward to your continued comments about the cases we present here on BOL as well as the theoretical matters they bring to mind.