Why Does Guilt Lead to Self-Punishment?: a Deterrence Account

Liang Song, National University of Singapore, Singapore
Xiuping Li, National University of Singapore, Singapore
Gita Venkataramani Johar, Columbia University, USA
Although the notion that guilt can lead to self-punishment is not new, why this is the case remains unclear. The authors propose that guilty people may engage in self-punishment in order to “protect” the goal that they have failed (which elicits guilt). They refer to such an explanation as the “deterrence” account. Consistent with this account, the results of three studies show that, guilty participants demonstrate more self-punishing behavior (e.g., through forgoing pleasant experiences) when they are persistent with their goals, when the failed goal is more accessible in their mind, or when they believe that self-punishment is useful in achieving their goals.
[ to cite ]:
Liang Song, Xiuping Li, and Gita Venkataramani Johar (2011) ,"Why Does Guilt Lead to Self-Punishment?: a Deterrence Account", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 39, eds. Rohini Ahluwalia, Tanya L. Chartrand, and Rebecca K. Ratner, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 800-801.