New research suggests that the degree to which inmates’ express guilt or shame may provide an indicator of how likely they are to re-offend. The findings show that inmates who feel guilt about specific behaviors are more likely to stay out of jail later on, whereas those that are inclined to feel shame about the self might not. The research is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
The difference between guilt and shame might seem subtle, but researcher June Tangney and her colleagues Jeffrey Stuewig and Andres Martinez of George Mason University hypothesized that feeling one or the other of these emotions might contribute to different outcomes for incarcerated individuals. “When people feel guilt about a specific behavior, they experience tension, remorse, and regret,” the researchers write. “Research has shown that this sense of tension and regret typically motivates reparative action — confessing, apologizing, or somehow repairing the damage done.”