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Study Examines How Heartfelt Guilt Affects Individuals

For thousands of years, people have closely associated moral cleanliness with acts of physical cleanliness. A recent study published in the Australian Journal of Psychology explored this association by eliciting guilt, a threat to one’s moral purity.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018 12:01 am EDT
"Guilt is a complex experience involving at least two chronologically ordered components: the experience of a threat to moral purity, which is likely to make people think of dangers, and one’s defensive response to the threat, which is likely to activate the desire to cleanse"

For thousands of years, people have closely associated moral cleanliness with acts of physical cleanliness. A recent study published in the Australian Journal of Psychology explored this association by eliciting guilt, a threat to one’s moral purity.

In the study, guilt was elicited by asking participants to remember personal actions that resulted in harm to others and that had yet to be repaired. Participants were then shown threat words intermixed with negative, positive, and neutral words followed by a surprise recall test. Participants were also asked to select a parting gift from several products or rate the desirability of such products. These included cleansing items (hand sanitizer and mouthwash) and merchandise neutral to the concept of cleansing (pencil and notepad).

Heartfelt guilt led to elevated arousal, enhanced memory of threat words, and biased preferences towards cleansing products.

“Guilt is a complex experience involving at least two chronologically ordered components: the experience of a threat to moral purity, which is likely to make people think of dangers, and one’s defensive response to the threat, which is likely to activate the desire to cleanse,” said co-author Dr. Maura A. E. Pilotti, of Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University, in Saudi Arabia.

Additional Information

Link to Study: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ajpy.12223

About Journal

Australian Journal of Psychology is the premier scientific journal of the Australian Psychological Society. It covers the entire spectrum of psychological research and receives articles on all topics within the broad scope of the discipline. The journal publishes high quality peer-reviewed articles with reviewers and associate editors providing detailed assistance to authors to reach publication.

The journal publishes reports of experimental and survey studies, including reports of qualitative investigations, on pure and applied topics in the field of psychology. Articles on clinical psychology or on the professional concerns of applied psychology should be submitted to our sister journals, Australian Psychologist or Clinical Psychologist. The journal publishes occasional reviews of specific topics, theoretical pieces and commentaries on methodological issues. There are also solicited book reviews and comments

Annual special issues devoted to a single topic, and guest edited by a specialist editor, are published. The journal regards itself as international in vision and will accept submissions from psychologists in all countries.

About Wiley

Wiley is a global leader in education and scholarly research. Our online scientific, technical, medical, and scholarly journals, combined with our digital learning, assessment and certification solutions help universities, learned societies, businesses, governments and individuals increase the academic and professional impact of their work. For more than 210 years, we have delivered consistent performance to our stakeholders. The company's website can be accessed at www.wiley.com.

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