Are You Prone to Feeling Guilty? Then You’re Probably More Trustworthy, Study Shows


Source: University of Chicago

Summary: New research finds that when it comes to predicting who is most likely to act in a trustworthy manner, one of the most important factors is the anticipation of guilt.


Guilt-proneness differs from guilt. Whereas guilt elicits reparative behavior following a transgression, guilt-proneness reflects the anticipation of guilt over wrongdoing and causes people to avoid transgressing in the first place. People who rank high in guilt-proneness feel a greater sense of interpersonal responsibility when they are entrusted, and as such, are less likely to exploit the trust others place in them. Predicting trustworthy intentions and behavior, researchers identified a trait predictor of trustworthy intentions and behavior. They also provide practical advice for deciding in whom we should place our trust. New research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business finds that when it comes to predicting who is most likely to act in a trustworthy manner, one of the most important factors is the anticipation of guilt. The study findings were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Guilt prone

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Among the study’s key findings: a person’s tendency to anticipate feeling guilty, which the researchers call “guilt-proneness,” is the strongest predictor of how trustworthy that person is more so than a variety of other personality traits (extraversion, openness, agreeableness, neuroticism, and conscientiousness). In a series of six studies, the researchers set up economic games and surveys to measure trustworthy behavior and intentions. Individuals who scored high in the personality trait of guilt-proneness returned more money to others than individuals who scored low in guilt-proneness. Furthermore, in one experiment, individuals who were primed to behave responsibly as a result of reading a code of conduct were more likely to return money to others than the individuals who read a passage about the importance of looking out for themselves. This study offers insight into who is worthy of that trust.

Asst. Prof. Emma Levine “Our research suggests that if you want your employees to be worthy of trust”, “make sure they feel personally responsible for their behavior and that they expect to feel guilty about wrongdoing.”


More Information: Emma E. Levine et al, “Who is trustworthy? Predicting trustworthy intentions and behavior.,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2018). DOI: 10.1037/pspi0000136 


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