Published:  2011

Guilt and pride are heartfelt, but not equally so

Authors:  Melike M. Fourie, Henri G. L. Rauch, Barak E. Morgan, George F. R. Ellis, Esmè R. Jordaan, Kevin G. F. Thomas

Tags:  Behavioral inhibition, Heart rate variability, Moral emotions, Motivation, Sympathetic arousal

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We examined the cardiovascular physiology of guilt and pride to elucidate physiological substrates underpinning the behavioral motivations of these moral emotions. Although both emotions motivate prosocial behavior, guilt typically inhibits ongoing behavior, whereas pride reinforces current behavior. To succeed in eliciting real emotions, we used a novel social interaction task. We found dissociable sympathetic activation during guilt and pride; specifically, Guilt participants experienced prolonged cardiac sympathetic arousal as measured by preejection period (PEP), whereas Pride participants experienced transient non-cardiac somatic arousal and a shift to low frequency (LF) power in the cardiac spectrogram. This dissociation supports their distinctive motivational functions. Higher self-reported Behavioral Inhibition System (BIS) sensitivity was furthermore uniquely associated with guilt, supporting its function as a punishment cue.