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J Exp Psychol Gen. 2014 Feb;143(1):414-24. doi: 10.1037/a0031769. Epub 2013 Feb 11.

The burden of guilt: heavy backpacks, light snacks, and enhanced morality.

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Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University.
Harvard Business School, Harvard University.
College of Business Administration, University of Central Florida.


Drawing on the embodied simulation account of emotional information processing, we argue that the physical experience of weight is associated with the emotional experience of guilt and thus that weight intensifies the experience of guilt. Across 4 studies, we found that participants who wore a heavy backpack experienced higher levels of guilt compared to those who wore a light backpack. Additionally, wearing a heavy backpack affected participants' behavior. Specifically, it led them to be more likely to choose healthy snacks over guilt-inducing ones and boring tasks over fun ones. It also led participants to cheat less. Importantly, self-reported guilt mediated the effect of wearing a heavy backpack on these behaviors. Our studies also examined the mechanism behind these effects and demonstrated that participants processed guilty stimuli more fluently when experiencing physical weight.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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