Study: Being Prone to Guilt No. 1 Indicator of Trustworthiness

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Sep 12, 2018
Lying Man

Researchers have found that the number one indicator that someone is trustworthy, by far, is that they are more prone to guilty, according to Quartz. The study, performed by business professors at the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon, was recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

The researchers came to their conclusions through a set of experiments. In one, participants received money from a partner and were then told that this money had doubled in value; they were told that they were expected to return half to their partner, but they could choose to keep the money for themselves. In another, participants could choose to either lie or tell the truth about some information, which a partner would then rely on to make a decision. In that experiment, the participants were given a personal incentive to lie. 

Before the experiment, participants were given a questionnaire asking how they would feel in scenarios such as hitting an animal with their car or missing lunch with a friend. Their answers were meant to determine how prone to guilty feelings they were. In both experiments, the researchers found that guilt-proneness, far more than any other indicator tested, was the largest indicator of trustworthiness—and to a significant degree. The researchers made a note to distinguish guilt-proneness from feeling guilty; the latter is a discrete, negative emotion that happens in response to a wrongdoing while the former is more about how much people anticipate feeling guilty about something, which causes people to avoid transgressing in the first place. 

"We demonstrate that guilt-proneness predicts trustworthiness better than a variety of other personality measures, and we identify sense of interpersonal responsibility as the underlying mechanism by both measuring it and manipulating it directly," said the study abstract. "People who are high in guilt-proneness are more likely to be trustworthy than are individuals who are low in guilt-proneness, but they are not universally more generous. We demonstrate that people high in guilt-proneness are more likely to behave in interpersonally sensitive ways when they are more responsible for others’ outcomes."

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