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", Itziar Etxebarria, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), tells SINC.
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.
When it came to comparing the measurements of intensity of habitual guilt of these groups, the researchers saw that this score was significantly higher for women, in all three age groups. "This difference is particularly stark in the 40-50-year-old age group", points out Etxebarria.
The data also suggest that female teenagers and young women have higher scores than males of the same age. "This is caused by certain educational practices, which demand more of females, and which are sometimes still in use despite belief to the contrary", claims the scientist.
The authors also found gender differences similar to those noted for habitual guilt in the two indices of interpersonal sensitivity, although in the 40-50 age bracket the men's levels came closer to women's.
FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology