Do Men Feel Less Guilt Than Women?
Although changing social and cultural contexts mean guilt has less
power today than it once did, a new study has shown that in the
West this emotion is "significantly higher" among women.
The main problem, according to the experts, is not that women feel
a lot of guilt (which they do), but rather that many males feel
"Our initial hypothesis was that feelings of guilt are more
intense among females, not only among adolescents but also among
young and adult women, and they also show the highest scores for
interpersonal sensitivity", Itziar Etxebarria, lead author
of the study and a researcher at the University of the Basque
Country (UPV/EHU), tells SINC.
The research, published in the Spanish Journal of Psychology,
was carried out using a sample from three age groups (156 teenagers,
96 young people and 108 adults) equally divided between males
and females. The team of psychologists asked them what situations
most often caused them to feel guilt. They also carried out interpersonal
sensitivity tests the Davis Empathetic Concern Scale, and
a questionnaire on Interpersonal Guilt, created purposely for
When it came to comparing the measurements of intensity of habitual
guilt of these groups, the researchers saw that this score was
significantly higher for women, in all three age groups. "This
difference is particularly stark in the 40-50-year-old age group",
points out Etxebarria.
The data also suggest that female teenagers and young women have
higher scores than males of the same age. "This is caused
by certain educational practices, which demand more of females,
and which are sometimes still in use despite belief to the contrary",
claims the scientist.
The authors also found gender differences similar to those
noted for habitual guilt in the two indices of interpersonal
sensitivity, although in the 40-50 age bracket the men's levels
came closer to women's.
The interpersonal sensitivity of men (especially those aged between
25-33) is "comparatively low". The experts say a lack
of sensitivity could lead to absence or excessive weakness of
certain kinds of guilt, such as empathetic guilt, which could
be beneficial for interpersonal relationships and for the individual.
Types of Guilt
The most common forms of guilt are related to situations where
we cause harm to others. Stemming from this, it is normal that
this arouses feelings of empathy for the people we may have harmed,
which tend to turn into feelings of guilt when we recognise that
we are responsible for their suffering.
A previous study, also headed by Itziar Etxebarria, analyses
people's experiences of guilt, differentiating two components
one of these being empathetic (sorrow for the person we
have harmed in some way) and the other anxious-aggressive (unease
and contained aggression).
The anxious-aggressive kind of guilt is more common in people
who have been raised in a more blame-imposing environment, and
who are governed by stricter rules about behaviour in general
and aggression in particular. "It seems obvious that this
component will be more intense among women, and especially in
older women", says Etxebarria.
The greater presence of this component among women, above all
those aged between 40 and 50, explains the marked differences
in the intensity of habitual guilt in this age group, "just
at the age when males move towards females in the two indices
of interpersonal sensitivity analysed", she explains.
"Educational practices and a whole range of socialising
agents must be used to reduce the trend towards anxious-aggressive
guilt among women and to strengthen interpersonal sensitivity
among men", concludes the researcher.
January 25, 2010