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Study Finds That Guilt Can Be Good For Self-Control

Guilt: It's a Good Thing

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?

Image Source: Getty
Join The Conversation
popgoestheworld popgoestheworld 7 years
All emotions are healthy until the point they turn into psychological problems, and guilt is no exception. Guilt isn't the culprit - an excess of guilt is. People always want to shove aside uncomfortable emotions like guilt and jealousy, but you can learn a lot from them. The trick is knowing when to forgive yourself and move on.
McSquish McSquish 7 years
I think a healthy dose of guilt is good, but at the same time, now as an adult, I can't tell the difference between healthy guilt and negative guilt because guilt is just my default emotion, and I figure I did something wrong. I've had guilt hold me back from a lot of things that could be deemed "fun" or "experimental". I think parents teaching with guilt need to be aware of what kind of influence this has on a child. No worries, I'm working on it.
Ac2366 Ac2366 7 years
I think this is very true. I think young people these days don't take responsibility for their actions. Guilt is a good thing and is something that should be experienced when you are young. If a kid breaks something you explain to them what happened and how to be more careful with their things. You don't just say it's OK and buy them a new one. I think that happens way too often.
totygoliguez totygoliguez 7 years
If you do something wrong and feel guilty about it is healthy, but if you did something that was right and still felt guilty is not that healthy. For example, I sometimes find my self in situations where I have to say no, but I feel guilty for doing so. Its important to know when is guilt good and when is not. I'm still learning to do that.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 7 years
I think this study is very interesting and spot on. Kids should feel guilty when they do something wrong, or else they will never learn to take responsibility for their actions. They shouldn't let the guilt disproportionately affect their lives, though.
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