On the interplay between pain observation, guilt and shame proneness and honesty

Panagiotis Mitkidis*, Hanna Thaler, Sonja Perkovic, Shahar Ayal, Simon Tobias Schulz Karg, Dan Ariely

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Seeing others in pain can stimulate powerful socio-emotional responses. Does it also make us more moral? In two laboratory experiments, we examined the interplay between pain observation, self-reported guilt and shame, subjective perceptions of pain intensity, and subsequent honest behavior. Watching a confederate perform a moderately painful (vs. non-painful) task did not affect honest behavior in a subsequent die-roll task. Independent of pain observation, there was a positive relationship between self-reported guilt proneness and shame proneness and honesty. More specifically, individuals who are more prone to feeling guilt -and to a lesser extent shame- behaved more honestly. Furthermore, we found weak support for the hypothesis that greater perceived pain (rather than objective pain) is associated with less cheating. We call for further research in the interconnections between perceived pain, guilt, shame, and moral behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103920
JournalActa Psychologica
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


  • Expectations
  • Guilt proneness
  • Morality
  • Pain
  • Performers-observers gap effect


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