Feeling guilty as a source of information about threat and performance

Amelia Gangemi, Francesco Mancini, Marcel van den Hout (2007): Feeling guilty as a source of information about threat and performance. In: Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45 (10), pp. 2387 - 2396, 2007, ISSN: 0005-7967.


OCD patients experience increased feelings of guilt, threat and uncertainty about harm prevention. As to the relation between these phenomena, it was hypothesised that the experience of guilt acts as “information” that increases the sense of threat and decreases the sense that preventive action is effective. We tested whether state guilt is used as information about risk and prevention effects and whether people high in trait guilt do so more than others. Participants high and low in trait guilt were included. Three types of affect were experimentally induced: guilt, anxiety and a neutral affect. Then, participants estimated the likelihood and severity of a negative outcome, and the dissatisfaction with preventive performances in two OCD relevant scenarios. Relative to low-trait guilt participants, people high in trait guilt had higher ratings of risk after induction of state guilt. With regards to dissatisfaction with preventive performance, there was only a trend for high-trait guilt participants to respond stronger to state guilt. The results suggest that people with a general inclination to feel guilty use temporary feelings of guilt as information about the threat content of a situation and do so even if the source of state guilt is unrelated to the situation. Implications for the understanding of OCD are discussed.