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 “too little.”
“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,” says Itziar Etxebarria, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU).
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 this study.
It’s still a fairly small study so I wouldn’t put too much stock in these findings just yet. But I’d be fascinated to see the results of a similar study conducted with thousands of subjects.