Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The usefulness of guilt

Children typically start to feel guilt in their second year of life, says Grazyna Kochanska, who has been tracking children’s development for two decades in her laboratory at the University of Iowa. ...

In Dr. Kochanska’s latest studies, published in the August issue of The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, she and colleagues found that 2-year-olds who showed more chagrin during the broken-toy experiment went on to have fewer behavioral problems over the next five years. That was true even for the ones who scored low on tests measuring their ability to focus on tasks and suppress strong desires to act impulsively.

“If you have high guilt,” Dr. Kochanska said, “it’s such a rapid response system, and the sensation is so incredibly unpleasant, that effortful control doesn’t much matter.”

But self-control was critical to children in the studies who were low in guilt, because they still behaved well if they had high self-control.
--John Tierney, NYT, on guilt as a substitute for self-control

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