Date of Award:

2001

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Psychology

Advisor/Chair:

Tamara J. Ferguson

Abstract

Appraisal theories of emotion assert that guilt arises from the evaluations one ill makes about one's behavior. Perpetrators experience guilt when they view themselves as responsible for harm caused to their victims. Interpersonal theories of emotion hold that guilt is a function of relational factors, including the need to repair relationships. Theorists argue that guilty feelings often arise in spite of appraisals, and that perpetrators feel guilty because of a need to communicate reconciliatory messages to their victims. These two views of guilt are generally seen as mutually exclusive. This study proposed integrating both views of guilt into a single, interactive theory of guilt that includes both appraisals and interpersonal concerns and that asserts that guilt varies as a function of the appraisals one makes about one's own and others' behavior, the nature of the relationship between perpetrators and victims, the perspective from which one views events, and the passage of time. The main question asked was: when taking into account these factors, is guilt better accounted for by an appraisal, interpersonal , or the newly proposed integrative view of guilt?

One-hundred forty-seven male and 168 female university students were presented with scenarios depicting the interaction of two people who were friends or enemies and were directed to adopt the perspective of perpetrators, victims, or were not given instructions to adopt a perspective. In each scenario, a perpetrator acted to inflict harm that was either unintentional or angrily intended. Participants then rated perpetrators' responsibility appraisals, emotional responses, and forgiveness needs. Additionally, participants were asked to rate how responsible perpetrators believed their victims believed them to be.

Correlational analyses and AN OVA were used to test the effects of the factors in the proposed model on ratings of guilt. Although partial support was found for both the appraisal view and the interpersonal view of guilt, results provided the strongest support for the interactive view of guilt. Discussion focused on the role of appraisals, relational factors, perspective, and time in guilty feelings and the implications of these findings for further research.

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