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Contempt is a strong disdain , based on the conscious or unconscious conviction of the unworthiness of the persons affected by it (also groups of persons) or institutions . According to Meyer's encyclopedia of 1905, contempt is "the feeling that arises from the presupposition of personal disrespect for oneself (self-contempt) or for others (contempt for others)". The word despise comes from the Middle High German verahten .

Its opposite is respect .


Contempt arises from evaluating another person as inferior. In strictly hierarchical cultures, contempt arises from the social rank or prestige that a person holds and runs “downwards”. In egalitarian cultures, contempt arises from the belief that a person does not deserve the social rank and prestige that goes with it. It can then also be directed “from bottom to top”.


The effects of contempt are the degradation of the person or the devaluation of an institution , possibly the associated disregard for the corresponding person or social group, as well as torment, distancing , stress, anger, anger, aggressiveness in the despised person and, as a result, suffering and illness - also with economic damage.

Internal dismissal, but also disregard of the rules of the tormenting group, institution or disregard of the contracts with the tormenting person are "reflective effects" (reactions) of contempt.

Sociological Aspects

From a sociological point of view, contempt for other people is a central component of shame cultures as an attitude and social sanction . As a sharp form of exclusion , contempt denies the despised recognition , honor and reputation , he "loses face". ( See also Humiliation .) Even in today's Central Europe, contempt and respect play a conspicuous role in some subcultures , this ranges from the peer groups of young people to organized crime, politics and the scientific community at universities. Contempt between spouses is a common early sign of later separation.

In cultures of guilt, on the other hand, the signaling of respect and contempt in social interaction - but not necessarily in their meaning - recedes. In these cultures the point is not that a despised person wins honor again, but rather that a “sinner” atones for his guilt .

The former contempt for the “ dishonest professions ” is an exclusive feature of the class society . To this day, it contributes to the disdain of professions when their representatives are habitually treated by others present in the exercise of their activities as if “they are air”, e.g. B. lackeys , cleaning staff u. a. m.

Emotional psychological aspects

In emotion psychology , contempt is viewed as either a special form of disgust or anger (specifically anger ), or a mixture of both emotions.

In the opinion of some emotion researchers (e.g. Paul Ekmans ), contempt is one of the basic human emotions whose facial expression is innate. It is the same in all cultures and is decoded or recognized accordingly across cultures. According to others (e.g. Robert Plutchik ), contempt is not a basic emotion because it is composed of other basic emotions (disgust and anger).

In the context of modern psychoanalytic neuroses, contempt is understood as a narcissistic- aggressive affect. Investigations of affect regulation in patients with borderline personality disorder revealed an accumulation of affects of disgust and contempt.


In literary terms, "contempt" was treated many times, for example in Schiller's glove .

"Contemptible gesture" is a metaphor used in many European languages , for example in French "un geste de mépris" (Eng. "A contemptuous gesture") in Honoré de Balzac and Émile Zola ; in German-language texts it says: "with contemptuous gestures" for example in Willi Bredel , Max von der Grün , Carlo Mierendorff , Otto Stoessl and Ernst Wiechert .


The phrase "punish someone with contempt" means that you deliberately ignore someone, deliberately ignore them.

Web links

Wiktionary: Contempt  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Caution. In: Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon. A reference work for general knowledge. Volume 1: A to Astigmatism. New imprint. Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig a. a. 1905, p. 83.
  2. ^ William Ian Miller: The Anatomy of Disgust. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA a. a. 1997, ISBN 0-674-03154-7 .
  3. ^ Keith Oatley, Philip N. Johnson-Laird, The Communicative Theory of Emotions: Empirical tests, Mental Models, and Implications for Social Interaction. In: Leonard Martin, Abraham Tesser (eds.): Striving and Feeling. Interactions among Goals, Affect, and Emotion. L. Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale NJ 1995, ISBN 0-8058-1629-1 , pp.? - ?, here p. ??.
  4. Economic losses due to chronic illnesses of employees by illness in 2010 (in billions of euros). In: Statista - the statistics portal. 2019, accessed April 21, 2019.
  5. Susanna Lange: Lack of employee motivation: Economic damage through internal resignation. In: June 4, 2009, accessed April 21, 2019.
  6. Cf. Bas Kast : Love and how passion is explained. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2004, ISBN 3-10-038301-X . Kast quotes the psychologist and mathematician John Gottmann and calls the five harbingers of separation - criticism, defense, contempt, retreat and demonstration of power - "the apocalyptic horsemen".
  7. See H. Ty , R. L .: Attention. In: Werner Fuchs-Heinritz u. a. (Ed.): Lexicon for Sociology. 4th, fundamentally revised edition. VS - Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Opladen 2007, ISBN 978-3-531-15573-9 , p. 12 f.
  8. cf. Erving Goffman : Interaction Ritual. Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior. Doubleday, Garden City NY 1967.
  9. ^ Paul Ekman , Wallace V. Friesen: Unmasking the Face. A Guide to Recognizing Emotions from Facial Clues. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs NJ (1975), ISBN 0-13-938183-X .
  10. ^ Robert Plutchik : Emotion. A Psychoevolutionary Synthesis. Harper & Row, New York NY 1980, ISBN 0-06-045235-8 .
  11. ^ Robert Plutchik: Emotions and Life. Perspectives from Psychology, Biology, and Evolution. Revised and updated edition. American Psychological Association, Washington, DC 2002, ISBN 1-55798-949-4 .
  12. z. B. Paul Ekman: Reading feelings. How to recognize emotions and interpret them correctly. Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, Heidelberg 2004, ISBN 3-8274-1494-6 ; Review .
  13. See e.g. B. Robert Plutchik: Emotions and Life. Perspectives from Psychology, Biology, and Evolution. Revised and updated edition. American Psychological Association, Washington, DC 2002, ISBN 1-55798-949-4 ; s. also Plutchik: The Nature of Emotions.
  14. cf. Seminar plan Tilman Habermas (SS 2007, University of Frankfurt): Contempt - On the psychoanalysis of a narcissistic emotion. ( Memento of the original from January 9, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. With numerous references. (PDF; 35 kB). @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  15. cf. Cord Benecke, Gerhard Dammann: Nonverbal behavior of patients with borderline personality disorder. In: Matthias Hermer, Hans Gerhard Klinzing (Hrsg.): Nonverbal processes in psychotherapy. Dgvt-Verlag, Tübingen 2004, ISBN 3-87159-047-9 , pp. 261-272, (PDF; 615 kB).