Moral masochism: on the connection between guilt and self-punishment

Emotion. 2013 Feb;13(1):14-8. doi: 10.1037/a0029749. Epub 2012 Sep 17.


Do people sometimes seek to atone for their transgressions by harming themselves physically? The current results suggest that they do. People who wrote about a past guilt-inducing event inflicted more intense electric shocks on themselves than did those who wrote about feeling sad or about a neutral event. Moreover, the stronger the shocks that guilty participants administered to themselves, the more their feelings of guilt were alleviated. We discuss how this method of atonement relates to other methods examined in previous research.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Depression / etiology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Electroshock / instrumentation
  • Electroshock / methods
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Guilt*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Masochism / psychology*
  • Morals*
  • Punishment / psychology*
  • Young Adult