In an experiment conducted by psychologists Clair Adams and Mark Leary, women who were watching their weight were encouraged to eat doughnuts and candy. The aim of the experiment was to find out if people will indulge less if they do not feel guilty about it.
The dieting women were divided into two groups. One group was encouraged to feel better about breaking their diets, while the other group were left to feel guilty about it. At the end of the experiment, the psychologists would determine which group ate the most candy.
The women were told that they would be participating in two distinct studies. The first study would look at the effects of the food on a person’s mood. The second study would be a taste test.
In the first study, each woman was directed to select either a chocolate or glazed doughnut and to finish it within a four-minute time frame. They were then told to drink a full glass of water. The aim was to make the women feel guilty and overly full.
After the first study, the group that was encouraged to feel better about breaking their diet were given the following message: “Sometimes, participants feel guilty about eating a whole doughnut, but you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself about it. Remember that everyone indulges sometimes.” This message was intended to help these women get rid of some of their guilt. The second group did not receive any message.
Both groups were then given candy and told to sample each candy and rate it. They were told to eat as much candy as they like so that they could achieve an accurate rating.
The remaining candy was weighed by the researchers.
The women who were given the message to feel less guilty about having eaten the doughnut ate approximately 28 grams of the candy. Comparatively, the women who were allowed to feel guilty ate almost 70 grams.
The researchers concluded from these results that feeling guilty leads to indulging more.
Let us take a look at some examples of scenarios that may leave you feeling guilty and see why these guilty feelings may lead to overindulging in unwanted behavior.
Drinking too much
You may find that lately you have been drinking too much alcohol. Your efforts to reduce the amount you are drinking are not working and you are left feeling guilty about it. The guiltier you feel, the more you drink. It becomes a vicious circle.
Procrastinating when there is work to be done
You have a lot of work to do but all you are doing is procrastinating. You feel guilty about procrastinating and hence you continue to put off your work. The guiltier you feel, the less work you find yourself doing.
Spending too much money on jewellery or clothing
You may be splurging on jewellery and clothing, buying yourself something new every time you walk into a shop. The money you are spending seems to be adding up, but the more remorseful you feel about it, the more you find yourself buying and buying.
Gambling too much
You have been gambling a lot lately. All the money you have in your savings seems to be going to waste. The more you gamble, the worse you feel about it. You are guilty and you don’t know what to do. However, it seems that the guiltier you feel, the more you gamble.
Smoking too much
You may be a heavy smoker. You have tried several times to quite but without success. You feel very guilty every time you smoke a cigarette, but this only leaves you craving the next cigarette even more. The more remorse you feel about smoking, the more you smoke.