The Burden of Guilt: Heavy Backpacks, Light Snacks, and Enhanced Morality

  • Date: 28 Jan, Time: 03:30pm - 04:45pm
  • Location: Room 23

Francesca Gino1, Maryam Kouchaki2, Ata Jami2; 1Harvard Business School, 2University of Utah

Six studies tested whether the physical experience of weight increases individuals self-reported guilt and affects their behavior. Participants who wore a heavy backpack experienced higher levels of guilt compared to those wearing a light backpack or no backpack. Additionally, wearing a heavy backpack led participants to be more likely to choose healthy snacks over guilt-inducing ones and boring tasks over fun ones. It also led participants to cheat less and to judge others questionable behaviors as more unethical. Importantly, self-reported guilt mediated the effect of wearing a heavy backpack on these behaviors. Finally, in a field study, individuals carrying a backpack were more likely to help than those without a backpack. Together, the results of these studies using different dependent outcomes provide evidence for a link between individuals physical experience of weight and the psychological experience of guilt, with important consequences for behavior across domains.


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