Factors Related to the Gender Difference in Adaptive Guilt




Kenemore, Jordan

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Office of the Vice President for Research


Guilt is a self-conscious and moral emotion that involves feelings of regret and remorse over a negative behavior. Adaptive guilt, or guilt that focuses on specific transgressions, is important for strengthening and maintaining relationships, as it motivates the transgressor to engage in reparative action. Previous research has found that women tend to report more adaptive guilt than men do, but to date, the reason for this difference is not well understood. Therefore, the main purpose of this study was to explore variables that have a logical association with adaptive guilt to determine which factors may help explain gender differences in this domain. Variables of interest included empathy and perspective-taking, which had a known association with adaptive guilt, and self-reflection, which correlates positively with empathy and perspective-taking but had an unexplored relationship with gender or adaptive guilt.

The study tested the following hypotheses: (1) Women and individuals with higher levels of femininity would express higher levels of adaptive guilt, while those with higher levels of masculinity would express lower levels of adaptive guilt, (2) Individuals who express higher levels of empathy, perspective-taking, and self-reflection would express higher levels of adaptive guilt. (3) Women and individuals with higher levels of femininity would express higher levels of empathy, perspective-taking, and self-reflection. Participants were 367 students, enrolled in PSY 1013, “Introductory Psychology” who completed questionnaires that measured the variables of interest. Data were analyzed using correlational analyses and t-tests to determine which measures contributed to gender differences in guilt.

As predicted, there were strong relationships between femininity, empathic concern, and perspective-taking, suggesting that socialization plays a stronger role in the development of adaptive guilt than biological gender. Additionally, stereotypic masculinity was found to be negatively correlated with adaptive guilt, personal distress, and rumination. Results also indicated a stronger social basis for the development of guilt, such that high-feminine individuals reported higher levels of guilt, perspective-taking, and self-reflection regardless of gender.



guilt, shame, masculinity, femininity, empathy, perspective-taking, self-reflection