Home > Politics, Science > Guilt and Racial Prejudice

Guilt and Racial Prejudice

The Situationist writes:

We have explored the concept of “feeling guilty” on several occasions (e.g., Guilty or Not Guilty?: Law & Mind Meets Hamlet; Implicit Bias and Strawmen). We now bring you news of a new study by New York University psychologist David M. Amodio and his colleagues, Patricia G. Devine of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Eddie Harmon-Jones of Texas A&M University, that examines the intersection between guilt and racial prejudice. The study appears in the June issue of Psychological Science. Below we have excerpted a Science Daily summary of the study.

Guilt plays a vital role in the regulation of social behavior. That worried feeling in our gut often serves as the impetus for our stab at redemption. However, psychologists have trouble agreeing on the function of this complex emotion.

On one hand, the punitive feeling of guilt may keep you from repeating the same transgressive behavior in the future, which psychologists call “withdrawal motivation.” Conversely, some researchers view the function of guilt in a societal context, in that; it keeps people’s behavior in line with the moral standards of their community. This view emphasizes a more positive emotional experience and is associated with “approach motivation.”

In a new study appearing in the June issue of Psychological Science, published by the Association for Psychological Science, New York University psychologist, David M. Amodio, and his colleagues, Patricia G. Devine, and Eddie Harmon-Jones, sought to combine the two camps. The researchers believe that guilt is initially associated with withdrawal motivation, which then transforms into approach-motivated behavior when an opportunity for reparation presents itself. Furthermore, the researchers sought to test these questions about the functions guilt in the context of reducing racial prejudice.

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