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Concept: Guilt


Guilt is an important social and moral emotion. In addition to feeling unpleasant, guilt is metaphorically described as a “weight on one’s conscience.” Evidence from the field of embodied cognition suggests that abstract metaphors may be grounded in bodily experiences, but no prior research has examined the embodiment of guilt. Across four studies we examine whether i) unethical acts increase subjective experiences of weight, ii) feelings of guilt explain this effect, and iii) whether there are consequences of the weight of guilt. Studies 1-3 demonstrated that unethical acts led to more subjective body weight compared to control conditions. Studies 2 and 3 indicated that heightened feelings of guilt mediated the effect, whereas other negative emotions did not. Study 4 demonstrated a perceptual consequence. Specifically, an induction of guilt affected the perceived effort necessary to complete tasks that were physical in nature, compared to minimally physical tasks.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Mind, Concepts in metaphysics, Emotion, Morality, Feeling, Guilt


Remorse has long been important to the juvenile justice system. However, the nature of this construct has not yet been clearly articulated, and little research has examined its relationships with other theoretically and forensically relevant variables. The present study was intended to address these issues by examining relationships among remorse, psychopathology, and psychopathy in a sample of adolescent offenders (N = 97) using the theoretically and empirically established framework of guilt and shame (Tangney & Dearing, 2002). Findings indicated that shame was positively related to behavioral features of psychopathy, whereas guilt was negatively related to psychopathic characteristics more broadly. In addition, shame was positively associated with numerous mental health problems whereas guilt was negatively associated with anger, depression, and anxiety. These results provide empirical support for theory that psychopathy is characterized by lack of remorse (e.g., Hare, 1991), and also underscore shame and guilt as potentially important treatment targets for adolescent offenders. (PsycINFO Database Record

Concepts: Psychology, Mental disorder, Conduct disorder, Psychopathy, Empirical research, Guilt, Remorse, Shame


This study explored the relations between self-conscious emotions, personality traits, and anxiety disorders symptoms in non-clinical youths. One-hundred-and-eighteen adolescents aged 12-15 years completed the brief shame and guilt questionnaire for children (BSGQ-C) and items of the youth self-report (YSR) to measure shame and guilt, the big five personality questionnaire for children, and the youth anxiety measure for DSM-5. Results for shame indicated that this self-conscious emotion-either measured by the BSGQ-C or the YSR-was uniquely and positively associated with a broad range of anxiety disorders symptoms, and correlated positively with neuroticism and negatively with extraversion. Guilt did not show significant associations with anxiety disorders symptoms once controlling for the influence of shame, and links with personality traits varied dependent on the assessment instrument that was used (BSGQ-C or YSR). Finally, when controlling for neuroticism and extraversion, shame consistently remained a significant correlate of anxiety disorders symptoms. Altogether, these results add to the growing body of evidence indicating that high levels of shame are clearly associated with anxiety pathology.

Concepts: Anxiety, Psychology, Personality psychology, Neuroticism, Big Five personality traits, Guilt, Emotions, Shame


Tension Reduction Theory (Kushner et al., 1994) suggests alcohol is used as a means to alleviate negative affect (NA) such as shame and guilt. Shame is an internalized response in which blame is placed on the self, while guilt is not internalized and the blame is placed on the situation (Dearing et al., 2005). This study aims to investigate relationships of shame and guilt to alcohol use and problems through the mechanisms of multiple facets of impulsivity (i.e. UPPS) and impaired control over drinking (IC), which reflect behavioral control processes. The sample consisted of 419 college students (53% female). We examined direct and indirect relationships of shame and guilt on alcohol use and related problems through facets of impulsivity and IC. Shame and guilt were found to diverge (Woien et al., 2003). We found that those higher on shame-proneness used more alcohol and experienced more alcohol-related problems through increased negative urgency and IC. Conversely, guilt-prone individuals used less alcohol and experienced fewer alcohol-related problems through less negative urgency and IC. Our findings suggest that guilt is an adaptive form of negative affect, particularly when it comes to alcohol-related outcomes.

Concepts: Redox, Affect, Ethics, Social psychology, Affect display, Guilt, Shame, Blame


Psychological research using mostly cross-sectional methods calls into question the presumed function of shame as an inhibitor of immoral or illegal behavior. In a longitudinal study of 476 jail inmates, we assessed shame proneness, guilt proneness, and externalization of blame shortly after incarceration. We interviewed participants (N = 332) 1 year after release into the community, and we accessed official arrest records (N = 446). Guilt proneness negatively and directly predicted reoffense in the 1st year after release; shame proneness did not. Further mediational modeling showed that shame proneness positively predicted recidivism via its robust link to externalization of blame. There remained a direct effect of shame on recidivism: Unimpeded by defensive externalization of blame, shame inhibited recidivism. Items assessing a motivation to hide were primarily responsible for this pattern. Overall, our results suggest that the pain of shame may have two faces-one with destructive potential and the other with constructive potential.

Concepts: Psychology, Cross-sectional study, Sociology, Behavior, Social psychology, Guilt, Shame, Blame


While dog owners claim that their dogs' greeting behaviour after having performed a misdeed indicates the dogs' ‘guilt’, current experimental evidence suggests that dogs show these ‘guilty look’ behaviours as a response to being scolded by their owners. Given reports that ‘guilty look’ behaviours are shown also in the absence of being scolded, we investigated whether the dogs' own actions or the evidence of a misdeed might serve as triggering cues. We manipulated whether or not dogs ate a ‘forbidden’ food item and whether or not the food was visible upon the owners' return. Based on their dogs' greeting behaviour, owners stated that their dog had eaten the food no more than expected by chance. In addition, dogs' greeting behaviours were not affected by their own action or the presence or absence of the food. Thus, our findings do not support the hypothesis that dogs show the ‘guilty look’ in the absence of a concurrent negative reaction by their owners.

Concepts: Behavior, Dog, Guilt


Studies show that women with high BMI are less likely than thinner women to seek healthcare. We aimed to determine the mechanisms linking women’s weight status to their healthcare avoidance. Women (N = 313) were surveyed from a U.S. health-panel database. We tested a theory-driven model containing multiple stigma and body-related constructs linking BMI to healthcare avoidance. The model had a good fit to the data. Higher BMI was related to greater experienced and internalized weight stigma, which were linked to greater body-related shame. Internalized weight stigma was also related to greater body-related guilt, which was associated with higher body-related shame. Body-related shame was associated with healthcare stress which ultimately contributed to healthcare avoidance. We discuss recommendations for a Weight Inclusive Approach to healthcare and the importance of enhancing education for health professionals in weight bias in order to increase appropriate use of preventive healthcare in higher weight women.

Concepts: Sociology, Body mass index, Force, Das Model, Link, Guilt, Shame


Mature moral judgments rely both on a perpetrator’s intent to cause harm, and also on the actual harm caused-even when unintended. Much prior research asks how intent information is represented neurally, but little asks how even unintended harms influence judgment. We interrogate the psychological and neural basis of this process, focusing especially on the role of empathy for the victim of a harmful act. Using fMRI, we found that the ‘empathy for pain’ network was involved in encoding harmful outcomes and integrating harmfulness information for different types of moral judgments, and individual differences in the extent to which this network was active during encoding and integration of harmfulness information determined severity of moral judgments. Additionally, activity in the network was down-regulated for acceptability, but not blame, judgments for accidental harm condition, suggesting that these two types of moral evaluations are neurobiologically dissociable. These results support a model of “empathic blame”, whereby the perceived suffering of a victim colors moral judgment of an accidental harmdoer.

Concepts: Psychology, Neuroscience, Emotion, Morality, Social psychology, Victimisation, Guilt, Saul Bellow


Perceptions of criminality and remorse are critical for legal decision-making. While faces perceived as criminal are more likely to be selected in police lineups and to receive guilty verdicts, faces perceived as remorseful are more likely to receive less severe punishment recommendations. To identify the information that makes a face appear criminal and/or remorseful, we successfully used two different data-driven computational approaches that led to convergent findings: one relying on the use of computer-generated faces, and the other on photographs of people. In addition to visualising and validating the perceived looks of criminality and remorse, we report correlations with earlier face models of dominance, threat, trustworthiness, masculinity/femininity, and sadness. The new face models of criminal and remorseful appearance contribute to our understanding of perceived criminality and remorse. They can be used to study the effects of perceived criminality and remorse on decision-making; research that can ultimately inform legal policies.

Concepts: Understanding, Sociology, Cognition, Criminology, Face, Faces, Criminal justice, Guilt


We investigate the possibility that victims and transgressors are predictably miscalibrated in their interpretation of a transgression, and that this has important implications for the process of forgiveness. Across 5 studies, we find that victims underestimate how much transgressors desire forgiveness. This is driven by a 2-part mediating mechanism: First, victims are more likely than transgressors to see the transgression as intentional, and second, this causes victims to believe transgressors feel less guilty than transgressors report feeling. Ultimately, this chain of asymmetries stymies the processes of forgiveness because victims tend to withhold forgiveness from those who actually desire it. The predicted effect emerged in the context of scenario studies (Studies 3 and 5), a real transgression that occurred in the lab (Study 4), transgressions from participants' pasts (Study 1), and transgressions from the same day (Study 2). In Study 4, we describe a new procedure in which 1 participant commits a real transgression against another participant, providing an effective means for researchers to study real-time transgressions from the perspective of both parties involved. Furthermore, in Study 5, we found that when victims were encouraged to empathize with the transgressor, the asymmetries were attenuated, suggesting a means of overcoming this impediment to forgiveness. (PsycINFO Database Record

Concepts: Participation, Effectiveness, Empathy, Interpretation, Feeling, Victim, Guilt, Transgression