This project investigates the relationship between guilt and moral compensation, or pursuing morally positive behavior following morally suspect behavior. Additionally, the current research seeks to examine whether interpersonal, relational motives or intrapersonal, self-focused motives drive this relationship. In Study 1, participants recalled a moral transgression or a neutral memory; they then rated their guilt and completed a compensatory monetary donation task (or vice versa). Guilt was lower after the compensatory task, particularly for participants who had recalled a transgression, suggesting that compensatory behavior can mitigate guilt. Pre-compensatory guilt also significantly predicted the decision to donate. Study 2 manipulated the anonymity of both the transgression and the compensatory opportunity in order to probe the interpersonal versus intrapersonal mechanisms of guilt and moral compensation. Guilt and donations were higher for known than unknown transgressions, but were unaffected by compensation anonymity, supporting both interpersonal and intrapersonal mechanisms. The link between transgression anonymity and donations was fully mediated by guilt, indicating that guilt motivates subsequent compensatory behavior. Together, the results of these studies illustrate that guilt affects and is affected by compensatory behavior. Further research may help clarify the mechanisms behind this relationship.
Renetzky, Heather C., "Guilt and Moral Compensation: Relational or Self-Presentational?" (2015). Psychology Honors Projects. 35.
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