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Surprising Science

Why People Who Feel Guilty Make the Best Mates

While guilt is often considered the residue of religious moral codes, people who feel guilty about bad behavior before they even act may make the best friends, mates and employees.

What’s the Latest Development?

A new psychological study suggests that people who feel guilty for just thinking of behaving badly may make the best kind of partner, friend and employee because they are more likely to consider the consequences of their actions. “Writing in the Current Directions in Psychological Science journal, experts explained the difference between guiltthe feeling of remorse when you have done something wrongand ‘guilt proneness’, where you anticipate feeling ashamed before you have actually done any wrong.” Psychologists say they can easily measure guilt by using the Guilt and Shame Proneness scale.

What’s the Big Idea?

The researchers said that between 30 and 40 percent of people fall into the opposite category and give very little thought to how their actions will affect others. Thus the feeling of guilt, often characterized as a residue of antiquated religious thought, may determine whether someone is the right mate for you. Psychologists point out, however, that ‘cheaters high’—the rush of energy that results from breaking the rules—is often powerful enough to outweigh shame and make people feel good about behaving badly. In these cases, dishonesty can trigger positive feelings. 

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