Guilt and focusing in decision-making

Amelia Gangemi, Francesco Mancini (2007): Guilt and focusing in decision-making. In: Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 20 (1), pp. 1–20, 2007, ISSN: 1099-0771.


In this paper we examined the impact of a specific emotion, guilt, on focusing in decision-making. Through the focusing mechanism, when making decisions, individuals tend to restrict their thoughts to what is explicitly represented in the decisional task, disregarding alternatives. In this paper, three experiments are performed to investigate whether an emotional state of guilt can critically guide individuals' focusing, and even prevailing over the focusing mechanism. Guilty emotional state was induced by asking participants to write about a guilty related life event. The emotional state was thus neither generated by nor related to the tasks used in the experiments. Results of the first two studies show that guilt affects focusing in decision-making in the case of only one explicitly specified option (a positive or a negative one). Guilty participants, when presented with a stated option that has predominantly positive characteristics, prefer other, unspecified options over the positive one. Guilty participants faced with a stated option that has predominantly negative features tend to prefer it to other, unspecified, options, instead. Finally, experiment 3 shows that guilty participants presented with two different options (a negative vs. a positive one) having different degrees of explicitness (i.e. they are not equally represented in the decision frame), focus on the negative option, even though the latter was not explicitly represented but only hinted at the end of the text. Overall, these results suggest that guilt emotion state can play a crucial role in either strengthening or reducing the focusing mechanism. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.