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  1. Lynn E. O'Connor

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0395

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

O'Connor, L. E. 2010. Guilt. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–3.

Author Information

  1. Wright Institute and University of California, Berkeley

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


Guilt, a notoriously difficult concept to define, is an emotion and a condition that almost everyone experiences. Across all definitions, guilt is related to the violation of a group's or a person's morals. The objective state of guilt refers to a situation in which a person has violated a rule of a religion, a state, a social group, or a community. In this definition a person may be categorized and labeled “guilty.” The result usually may involve punishment or censure. This kind of guilt may or may not include subjective or psychological guilt, which is the internal affective state in which a person feels highly anxious, repentant, and regretful. Subjective guilt may result from violating internalized moral standards. Both types of guilt are tied to morality in social contexts or relationships. In most situations, a person categorized as objectively “guilty” is likely to suffer from the internal discomfort of being a transgressor, as well as from the expectation of punishment. When people are accused of being “guilty,” they may suffer from subjective guilt, even when the label has been determined unfairly.


  • altruism;
  • morals;
  • emotions;
  • evolution