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Guilt Proneness and Moral Character

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journal contribution
posted on 2007-11-01, 00:00 authored by Taya CohenTaya Cohen, A. T. Panter, Nazli Turan

Guilt proneness is a personality trait indicative of a predisposition to experience negative feelings about personal wrongdoing, even when the wrongdoing is private. It is characterized by the anticipation of feeling bad about committing transgressions rather than by guilty feelings in a particular moment or generalized guilty feelings that occur without an eliciting event. Our research has revealed that guilt proneness is an important character trait because knowing a person’s level of guilt proneness helps us to predict the likelihood that person will behave unethically. Web-based studies of adults across the United States have shown that people who score high on measures of guilt proneness (compared to low scorers) make fewer unethical business decisions, commit fewer delinquent behaviors, and behave more honestly when making economic decisions. In the workplace, guilt-prone employees are less likely to engage in counterproductive behaviors that harm their organization.