Guilt Proneness And Ethical Behavior: The Good, The Bad, And The Guilty
Converging evidence suggests that the answer could be guilt proneness.
In a new article in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, researchers Taya Cohen and Nazli Turan of Carnegie Mellon University and A.T. Panter of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill examine the existing research on guilt proneness, exploring how it might influence our behavior in the workplace and beyond.
According to Cohen, Panter, and Turan, guilt proneness isn't the same thing as feeling guilty after you've done something wrong - people who are guilt prone actually anticipate having negative feelings before they ever commit a moral transgression. Importantly, these people don't need their mother, their boss, or their significant other looking over their shoulder to prevent them from committing moral transgressions because their conscience does it for them.
Guilt proneness can be measured with four items, drawn from the Guilt and Shame Proneness scale (GASP), which ask people to imagine how they would feel in a given scenario. Although answers to the items vary across different groups of participants, the researchers estimate that about 30% to 40% of the adults they have surveyed are considered low in guilt proneness.
Not surprisingly, guilt proneness seems to be correlated with certain aspects of personality. Research suggests that people who are high in guilt proneness are more likely to be sympathetic, take the perspective of others, consider the future consequences of their behavior, and value having moral traits. Furthermore, women are more guilt prone than men, and older adults are more guilt prone than younger adults.
Across several studies, Cohen, Panter, and Turan have found that people who report higher levels of guilt proneness are less likely to make unethical business decisions, lie for monetary gain, or cheat during negotiations. People who are guilt prone are also less likely to engage in counterproductive work behaviors, like showing up to work late without permission, stealing office supplies, and being rude to clients, even after taking into account other factors like gender, age, and interpersonal conflict at work.
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.
The guilt-proneness scale has the potential to be "an important measurement tool for predicting which individuals are likely to behave unethically in their social interactions inside and outside the workplace," Cohen and her colleagues write. The researchers encourage additional research to examine whether GASP might be a useful and valid tool in high-stakes settings such as personnel selection.
This publication was made possible through the support of the Center for Behavioral & Decision Research at Carnegie Mellon University, the Berkman Faculty Development Fund at Carnegie Mellon University, and Grant 15519 from The Character Project at Wake Forest University and the John Templeton Foundation to Taya R. Cohen and A. T. Panter. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsors.
Association for Psychological Science
Source: EurekAlert!, the online, global news service operated by AAAS, the science society
Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:
Association for Psychological Science. "Guilt Proneness And Ethical Behavior: The Good, The Bad, And The Guilty." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 13 Oct. 2012. Web.
1 Oct. 2016. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/251397.php>
Association for Psychological Science. (2012, October 13). "Guilt Proneness And Ethical Behavior: The Good, The Bad, And The Guilty." Medical News Today. Retrieved from
Please note: If no author information is provided, the source is cited instead.
Contact our news editors
For any corrections of factual information, or to contact our editorial team, please see our contact page.
Copyright Medical News Today: Excluding email/sharing services explicitly offered on this website, material published on Medical News Today may not be reproduced, or distributed without the prior written permission of Medilexicon International Ltd. Please contact us for further details.