Anticipated Guilt and Going Against One’s Self-Interest

Xiaolu Zhang*, Marcel Zeelenberg, Seger M. Breugelmans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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To lend money to someone and to later ask this same person to pay the money back should be relatively unproblematic in modern, monetized societies. Still, some people find it difficult to ask for lent money to be paid back, even though it is in their own interest that this happen and they have the legitimate right to ask their money back. In this article, we examine 1 reason why people might experience such difficulties: the anticipation of guilt. In Study 1, the majority of participants from 3 different countries indicated that they sometimes did not ask money back because doing so would make them feel guilty. Study 2 found that the more people anticipated guilt about asking their money back, the less willing they were to do this. Study 3 found that the effect of guilt became less strong when more money was at stake. Study 4 found that people anticipated more guilt and were less likely to ask money back when the other person was poor compared to rich. Studies 5 and 6 found that the amount of harm people anticipated by asking the money back mediated the effect. Taken together, we interpret these studies (Ntotal = 2988) to showcase the social nature of guilt, in that it can motivate people to sacrifice their (financial) self-interest in order to protect relationships with others.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1417-1426
Number of pages10
Issue number7
Early online date28 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Psychological Association


This work was supported by the China Scholarship Council [Grant Number 201706320351].

FundersFunder number
China Scholarship Council201706320351


    • anticipated guilt
    • interpersonal harm
    • money
    • self-interest
    • self-sacrifice


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