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J Exp Psychol Gen. 2014 Dec;143(6):2103-10. doi: 10.1037/a0037932. Epub 2014 Sep 15.

Guilt enhances the sense of control and drives risky judgments.

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Kellogg School of Management.
Rady School of Management, University of California.
Harvard Business School, Harvard University.


In the present studies, we investigate the hypothesis that guilt influences risk taking by enhancing one's sense of control. Across multiple inductions of guilt, we demonstrate that experimentally induced guilt enhances optimism about risks for the self (Study 1), preferences for gambles versus guaranteed payoffs (Studies 2, 4, and 6), and the likelihood that one will engage in risk-taking behaviors (Study 5). In addition, we demonstrate that guilt enhances the sense of control over uncontrollable events, an illusory control (Studies 3, 4, and 5), and found that a model with illusory control as a mediator is consistent with the data (Studies 5 and 6). We also found that a model with feelings of guilt as a mediator but not generalized negative affect fits the data (Study 4). Finally, we examined the relative explanatory power of different appraisals and found that appraisals of illusory control best explain the influence of guilt on risk taking (Study 6). These results provide the first empirical demonstration of the influence of guilt on sense of control and risk taking, extend previous theorizing on guilt, and more generally contribute to the understanding of how specific emotions influence cognition and behavior.

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