Poster Session F, Tuesday, March 26, 8:00 – 10:00 am, Pacific Concourse
The psychophysiology of guilt
Chloe A. Stewart1, Penny A. MacDonald1, R.W.J. Neufeld1, Derek G.V. Mitchell1, Elizabeth C. Finger1; 1University of Western Ontario
The autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is responsible for the regulation of bodily functions, has been shown to play a role in the experience of emotions. Previous research has established physiological patterns of activation for numerous basic emotions. One emotion that has not yet been characterized, despite an anecdotally visceral experience, is guilt, an emotion that is elicited by realizing that one has caused actual or perceived harm to another. This study sought to identify the specific ANS patterns elicited during the experience of guilt. Fifty healthy individuals (25 female) completed a novel task, which involved viewing videos designed to elicit guilt and the comparison emotions of amusement, disgust, sadness, pride, and neutral affect. Participants’ swallowing, heart, and respiration rates were continuously monitored. Preliminary analysis identified a significant interaction between emotion and physiological states (F(9.782, 459.769)= 2.070, p=.027). Post-hoc analyses found specific patterns of activation distinct from neutral affect for each of the comparison emotions, with guilt eliciting a unique pattern of increased swallowing (t(42)=3.828, p<.001) and increased sympathetic heart rate activation (t(41)=3.246, p=.002). There was no significant effect of guilt on respiratory sinus arrhythmia, (t(41)=.473, p=.639) or on respiration rate (t(42)=.952, p=.347). These results suggest that there is a distinguishable autonomic output representing guilt that is characterized by enhanced sympathetic outflow. Future studies will aim to identify whether alterations in these physiological responses may have implications for emotional abnormalities in disorders known to have altered levels of guilt, such as psychopathy and frontotemporal dementia.
Topic Area: EMOTION & SOCIAL: Other