Imposed self-interest and feelings of guilt

Having self-interest imposed on a person might help them to avoid feelings of guilt on the matter. This is according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, which considered whether or not individuals can pursue self-interest without feeling bad about it.

Jonathan Berman and Deborah Small, Psychological Scientists at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, suggested people could be free to enjoy self-interest without believing themselves to be selfish, as long as their sense of agency is removed by ensuring they do not feel responsible for the outcome.

Mr Berman noted: "Often people really want to act in a selfish manner. But they don't do so, because they know they would feel selfish if they did."

It was shown that individuals tend to be happier when something that is self-benefiting is imposed upon them, as this takes away any of their responsibility for what happens next.

Professor Stephen Palmer, a Chartered Psychologist, adds:

"Normally when a person is feeling guilty they are telling themselves that they either should or should not have done some particular action. For example, 'I should have arrived on time' or 'I should not have shouted at my children.' However, when a person does not feel responsible for a situation or their actions their guilt diminishes. For example, 'Although I should have arrived on time, it was not my fault the train was delayed by signalling faults.' So it's no real surprise, as in the imposed self-interest study, that externally controlled situations where apparently a computer decides the outcome negates the guilt the person mighthave felt if the choice or agency had been left to them."