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People who are more prone to feeling guilty are more trustworthy

A new study from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business is providing practical advice for identifying people we can trust. The researchers have found that individuals who are the most prone to feeling guilty are also the most likely to be trustworthy and have the best intentions.

The study revealed that guilt-proneness is the strongest predictor of trustworthiness compared to a variety of other personality traits including openness, agreeableness, neuroticism, and conscientiousness.

Unlike guilt, which follows wrongdoing, guilt-proneness is an anticipation of feeling guilty that causes people to avoid transgressing in the first place.

People who rank high in guilt-proneness feel a greater sense of interpersonal responsibility when they are entrusted. As a result, they are less likely to exploit trust from others.

The researchers used a series of economic games and surveys to measure trustworthy behavior and intentions.

Over the course of the games, study participants who were classified as having high levels of guilt-proneness returned more money to others compared to individuals who scored low in guilt-proneness.

In another experiment, participants were primed by reading different passages before engaging in an economic game. Those who read a code of conduct that encouraged responsible behavior were found to be more likely to return money to others compared to participants who read about the importance of looking out for themselves.

“Trust and trustworthiness are critical for effective relationships and effective organizations,” said the researchers. “Individuals and institutions incur high costs when trust is misplaced, but people can mitigate these costs by engaging in relationships with individuals who are trustworthy.”

“Our findings extend the substantial literature on trust by deepening our understanding of trustworthiness: When deciding in whom to place trust, trust the guilt-prone.”

The research stands out from past studies which are focused on what makes people trust each other by offering insight into who is deserving of our trust.

“Our research suggests that if you want your employees to be worthy of trust, make sure they feel personally responsible for their behavior and that they expect to feel guilty about wrongdoing.”

The study is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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