Guilt Dynamics: Consequences of Temporally Separating Decisions and Actions
77 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2017 Last revised: 8 Jun 2018
Date Written: September 5, 2017
The current research demonstrates that temporally separating a consumer’s initial decision to perform a guilt-inducing action from its actual enactment reduces the guilt felt while acting. This hypothesis follows from the development of a dynamic model that unpacks guilt into two distinct components. Initially, one experiences decision guilt accompanying the decision to act or the realization that one will act; subsequently, one experiences action guilt while engaging in the guilt-inducing behavior. Four experiments and two pilot studies reveal that introducing a temporal “decision-enactment gap” enables decision guilt to decay in this interim period, which lowers the overall guilt experienced upon acting. In line with the self-regulative function of guilt, decision-enactment gaps also increase indulgent consumption and decrease post-behavior atonement. This decoupling process can thus alleviate guilt that might otherwise detract from experiences, but may come at a cost to self-control efforts. The authors discuss the theoretical and practical implications of these findings.
Keywords: guilt, self-control, emotion, time, indulgence, mental accounting
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