Nov 30, 2012
Guilt plays a role in our enjoyment of pleasurable behaviors because in many cultures people are trained to associate guilt with pleasure. For example, notions of “guilty pleasures” are pervasive in Western society—from lowbrow television shows (think, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo) to the calorie-rich treats that we’re embarrassed to admit we love. These connections between guilt and pleasure are reinforced by the media and by advertising, which often highlights the “sin” associated with indulging.
Further, the connection between guilt and pleasure may be reinforced by our own experiences—when we experience pleasure, we may also experience guilt. If “guilt” and “pleasure” are repeatedly connected, either by others or by ourselves, over time our brains may start to expect pleasure when we experience guilt. Our research supports that this is the case.
Kelly Goldsmith is a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.