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Feelings of impending guilt may head off unethical behavior

Does just thinking about doing something unethical make you feel guilty? Well, it turns out that feeling guilty in advance may be a pretty healthy thing.

Does just thinking about doing something unethical make you feel guilty? Well, it turns out that feeling guilty in advance may be a pretty healthy thing.

Emerging research suggests that a character trait called “guilt proneness” could be an indicator of how likely someone is to act ethically—or unethically.

Researchers Taya Cohen and Nazli Turan of Carnegie Mellon University and A.T. Panter of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill examined current research into the subject in a recent article in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

As defined by researchers, people who are “guilt prone” anticipate having feelings of guilt before they ever commit a questionable act. In other words, their conscience steps in to weigh on them before they even do anything.

In the research, guilt proneness is measured using something called the Guilt and Shame Proneness scale (GASP), which asks people to imagine how they would feel in given scenarios. Researchers found that about three or four out of every 10 adults they surveyed were considered low in guilt proneness.

According to research into the subject so far, findings suggest that people with high guilt proneness are more likely to be sympathetic, take the perspective of others and value having moral traits. More women and older adults than men and younger adults tend to fall into this group.

The guilt-prone also appear to be less likely to lie, cheat and act unethically and, even after accounting for age and gender, they appear less likely to be late to work, steal office supplies, and so on.

According to a release discussing the article, “all of this research suggests that it may be wise to keep guilt proneness in mind, whether we are looking for an ethical friend, an ethical lover, or an ethical employee.”

Just a little mental health tip. Nothing to feel guilty about.

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