The social function of the feeling and expression of guilt

Julle-Daniere, E., Whitehouse, J. ORCID: 0000-0003-2607-5492, Vrij, A., Gustaffsson, E. and Waller, B. ORCID: 0000-0001-6303-7458, 2020. The social function of the feeling and expression of guilt. Royal Society Open Science, 7 (12): 200617. ISSN 2054-5703

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Humans are uniquely cooperative and form crucial short-and long-term social bonds between individuals that ultimately shape human societies. The need for such intense cooperation may have provided a particularly powerful selection pressure on the emotional and communicative behaviours regulating cooperative processes, such as guilt. Guilt is a social, other-oriented moral emotion that promotes relationship repair and pro-sociality. For example, people can be more lenient towards wrongdoers who display guilt than towards those who do not. Here we examined the social consequences of guilt in a novel experimental setting with pairs of friends differing in relationship quality. Pairs of participants took part in a cooperative game with a mutual goal. We then induced guilt in one of the participants and informed the other participant of their partner’s wrongdoing. We examined the outcome using a dictator game to see how they split a joint reward. We found that guilty people were motivated to repair wrongdoing regardless of friendship. Observing guilt in others led to a punishment effect and a victim of wrongdoing punished close friends who appeared guilty more so than acquaintances. We suggest, therefore, that guilt has a stronger function between close friends as the costs of relationship breakdown are greater. Relationship context, therefore, is crucial to the functional relevance of moral emotions.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: Royal Society Open Science
Creators: Julle-Daniere, E., Whitehouse, J., Vrij, A., Gustaffsson, E. and Waller, B.
Publisher: The Royal Society Publishing
Date: 9 December 2020
Volume: 7
Number: 12
ISSN: 2054-5703
Rights: © 2020 the authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Record created by: Jonathan Gallacher
Date Added: 01 Dec 2020 16:11
Last Modified: 31 May 2021 15:08

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