Aversion to risk and guilt

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Francesco Mancini, Amelia Gangemi (2004): Aversion to risk and guilt. In: Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 11 (3), pp. 199–206, 2004, ISSN: 1099-0879.


Much research has shown that cognitive processes are largely guided by individuals' states of mind (Mancini & Gangemi, 2002a, in press; Smeets, de Jong, & Mayer, 2000). In this paper, we specifically consider a state of mind characterized by guilt for having acted irresponsibly. This state is currently considered the breeding ground for the obsessive–compulsive disorder (Rachman, 2002; Salkovskis & Forrester, 2002). Our aim is to examine the impact of this state of mind on decision under risk. We hypothesize that individuals' choices (risk seeking/risk aversion) depend on how they evaluate themselves, as guilty or as victims of a wrong, and thus on moral values. People who evaluate them-selves as guilty are expected to show a risk-averse preference. People who evaluate themselves as victims are expected to show a risk-seeking preference. In two different experiments, we demonstrated that non-clinical participants' aversion to risky choices and preference for risky choices vary as a function of their moral role (guilty/victim). As predicted, in both the experiments, participants experienced intolerance for risk, making more riskless choices, in the context of guilt. Thus, aversion to risk-taking is actually affected by a mental state of guilt. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.