Guilt can enhance pleasure: Study

Guilt can enhance pleasure: Study

Making people feel even slightly guilty can amplify their pleasure, scientists say.
Ravi Dhar, an Indian-origin professor at Yale along with Kelly Goldsmith, an assistant professor at the Kellogg School of Management and Eunice Kim Cho from the University of Toronto, set up a series of experiments and found that it was guilt that enhanced pleasure and not some other associated emotion.

The first study tested participants’ affinity for a chocolate that they were told was being test-marketed. But before they could taste the candy, they were semantically primed, a technique widely used by social psychologists to activate concepts and emotions.

Half of the participants were given jumbled sentences loaded with words meant to induce guilt—words like remorse, sin, and error—while the others were given neutral words.

Participants who had been primed for guilt both liked the candy more and said they would be willing to pay more for it than those primed with neutral words.

In another study, female participants were primed by showing half of them covers of health-related magazines and the other half covers of neutral magazines.

Once primed, they were asked to imagine that they were participating in a chocolate taste-test and were asked how guilty they would feel if they were actually consuming the candy bar.

Participants who had been shown the health-related magazine covers reported feeling guiltier than those who had been primed with neutral magazines, illustrating the link between health goals and guilt.

Another group was then primed with the same task. Participants who read the health-related magazines reported enjoying the chocolate more, researchers said in a statement.

In a third study, the team wanted to see if guilt was the only negative emotion that could enhance pleasure. Participants were split into three groups this time—neutral, guilt, and disgust.

The latter two groups were asked to describe several instances where they felt either guilty or disgusted. Afterward, everyone participated in the same taste test as in the first study. Guilt-primed participants reported liking the chocolate more than those in the neutral or disgusted prime.

In fact, the neutral and disgusted groups reported liking the chocolate the same amount, suggesting that feeling a negative emotion other than guilt did not affect their impression of the candy either positively or negatively.

“Guilt is linked with pleasure because often times when we experience guilt, we experience pleasure. I think for a lot of people these cognitive associations can form just based on what we called repeated co activation.

When pleasure’s activated, guilt is activated, and so in our brains, over time, those two become connected,” Goldsmith said in a statement.

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