The expression, experience, and social consequences of guilt
: a cross-cultural study

  • Eglantine Camille Caroline Julle-Danière

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Guilt arises when someone feels s/he did something wrong; it is classified as a moral, selfconscious emotion and is one of the most social emotions that people experience throughout life. A facial expression of guilt may have evolved in humans to indicate one’s willingness to make amends. In this thesis, I investigate the form and social value of facial signals associated with guilt. First, I explored the facial signals reliably associated with guilt, using a bottom-up approach, and examined the facial movements associated with the perception of guilt. I found that self-reported guilt was associated with upper lip movement and neck touching, but the perception of guilt was associated with frowning and face touching. Second, I considered the influence of contextual information and methodology on the perception of guilt. The study revealed that the context helped the interpretation of a facial expression of guilt. However, people did not reliably identify a facial signal of guilt when using emotion or action tendency labels, but did so using dimensional ratings to a certain extent. Third, I explored the tendency people have to mislabel facial displays of guilt by looking at the eye fixation patterns. I found that ‘guilt’ facial expressions were examined similarly to basic emotion displays and this could indicate that the emotional display of guilt was perceived as a unique mix of primary emotions.Finally, I considered the social consequences of guilt between pairs of friends. In this study, feeling guilty increased the motivation to repair wrongdoing regardless of friendship while observing guilt in others led to a punishment effect, modulated by friendship. Overall, this thesis supports the idea that guilt has an important social function and provides the first evidence thatfacial signals can be associated with the experience of guilt. These data build on previous research on the perception of secondary emotions and the importance of facial signals in social interactions.
Date of AwardSept 2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorErik Mauro Bruno Gustafsson (Supervisor), Aldert Vrij (Supervisor) & Bridget Marguerite Waller (Supervisor)

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