People who are prone to anticipate feeling guilty are the most trustworthy, new research finds.
Compared with other personality traits like openness, neuroticism and extraversion, it is guilt-proneness that best predicts people’s trustworthiness.
Anticipating guilt is key, because it means a person is considering how guilty they will feel if they do something wrong…
…and this stops them doing it.
This is different from feeling guilt after doing something wrong, which encourages people to try and make up for the transgression.
People who are prone to anticipating guilt, though, feel more responsibility towards others and are much less likely to behave exploitatively.
The results come from a series of six studies in which people played economic games that tested their behaviour.
In these games, people more prone to anticipating guilt were more likely to return money to others.
The authors write:
“Trust and trustworthiness are critical for effective relationships and effective organizations.
Individuals and institutions incur high costs when trust is misplaced, but people can mitigate these costs by engaging in relationships with individuals who are trustworthy.
Our findings extend the substantial literature on trust by deepening our understanding of trustworthiness: When deciding in whom to place trust, trust the guilt-prone.”
Dr Emma Levine, the study’s first author, said:
“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.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Levine et al., 2018).