Guilt trips get a bad rap, and for good reason: no one likes being made to feel bad. But having a healthy sense of guilt could help you exercise self control. Feeling guilty about stealing something will make you less likely to shoplift; the pangs you feel after a chocolate binge might prevent the next one.
Feeling guilty at a young age could give you more self-control as an adult. A University of Iowa study stretching over several years examined how guilt helps children become more conscientious as they grow up. The sorta mean experiment involved giving children a toy to play with, telling them it was very special and they should be super careful, and then rigging the toy to break. The researchers followed the kids for years afterward, and interestingly, children who felt more guilt — an emotion that starts around age 2 — about the broken toy went on to have fewer behavioral problems as they aged.
But don't get ready to lay on the guilt trips just yet; atonement was also an essential part of the experiment. After making the children feel guilty about the broken toy, the researchers soon told them it wasn't their fault and that the toy could be easily repaired. The lesson: guilt can be constructive, but you have to administer it right. Have you found this to be true in your life?