If you thought that being ‘weighed down by guilt’ was only a metaphor, you probably got it wrong. Findings of a new study suggest that this phrase may well be a ‘real thing’.
University of Waterloo and Princeton University researchers have established that people have a heavier self-perceived weight when they think of instances that ignite the feeling of guilt in them.
“We found that recalling personal unethical acts led participants to report increased subjective body weight as compared to recalling ethical acts, unethical acts of others or no recall,” Martin Day, a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs said of the study findings.
The study clearly established that the increased sense of weight was directly related to the feeling of guilt and was not linked to other negative emotions like sorrow or revulsion.
The research also indicated that ‘importance’ had little role to play in increased subjective body weight.
Explaining this stance, Day said, “Ethical deeds were rated just as important as unethical actions, but only unethical, guilt-inducing memories led to increased reports of weight.”
For the purpose of the study, researchers conducted four different but closely related experiments. The study participants were divided into three different groups.
One group was asked to recall an ethical behavior, the second was asked to think about an unethical deed and the third was asked to simply recall a memory.
Thereafter, the participants were asked to reveal whether they felt heaver or lighter than their average weight.
The study researchers, in addition to examining whether unethical acts increased subjective weight, had the following objectives; if feelings of guilt explain this result, and whether the weight of guilt brings any penalty.
“Overall, it was exciting to find these patterns of results, which are consistent with an embodied theory of emotion. However, this is still relatively new research, and we are still exploring how to more fully characterize the experience of guilt,” concluded the study researchers.
The essence of the research then is that while guilt is literally weightless, it still has weight.
The findings of the study find mention in the journal PLOS ONE.