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Guilt Increases Experience of Pleasure : Study

Update Date: Nov 25, 2012 12:18 PM EST

A new study suggests that experiences are more enjoyable when there is a little guilt involved. Researchers say that things are the most pleasurable when there is some kind of restriction or when we are otherwise trying to avoid doing it. For example, chocolate seems the tastiest when one is on a diet.

According to researchers from Northwestern University in Illinois, there could be a scientific explanation as to why people who are "primed with guilt" enjoy things more, Mail Online reports.

Researcher Kelly Goldsmith, the lead author of the study, says that the idea of the research first struck her when a colleague told her that she joined Weight Watchers.

"She said, 'Gosh, why does everything just taste better when you're on a diet?'" Goldsmith recalls.

"That got me and my advisor talking. Does stuff actually taste better when you're on a diet? Does stuff taste better when you feel guilty eating it?"

For the study, the researchers conducted six experiments. In the first experiment, the participants were split into two groups and were asked to view six magazine covers. While half of the participants were given health magazines, the other half were given magazines dealing with other random subjects. All the participants were given chocolate bars and told that it was a "taste study".

It was found that all the participants who were looking at health magazines found the chocolate bar tastier than those who were not.

For the second experiment, 100 undergraduate students were split into three groups and asked to describe three experiences in a few sentences. Two groups described times when they felt guilty, and times when they felt disgusted, and the third group described three random events. After that, all participants were given a chocolate truffle to eat.

The experiment showed that all the participants who relived their guiltiest moments reported the chocolate truffle to be tastier than the other groups.

However, the link between guilt and pleasure is not limited to food, the report says. In another experiment, it was found that at an event where guilt was induced in women prior to showing them pictures of attractive men, they found the men to be more attractive.

"Guilt is linked with pleasure because often times when we experience guilt, we experience pleasure," Goldsmith says.

"I think for a lot of people these cognitive associations can form just based on what we called repeated coactivation. When pleasure's activated, guilt is activated, and so in our brains, over time, those two become connected."

The study was published in The Journal of Marketing Research.

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