Book chapter

Moral Emotions in Political Decision Making (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

Moral emotions such as guilt, shame, and pride play a central role in motivating and regulating many of people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. When moral emotions are experienced on behalf of one's group, they can have a deep impact on intergroup relations as well, particularly in situations of intergroup conflict. If society members feel that they, due to their association with the group, are responsible for the disproportional and illegitimate suffering of outgroup members, they may experience moral emotions like guilt and shame. These emotional responses can potentially motivate society members to enact a range of political response tendencies, varying from pure defensiveness, resulting in opposition to any relevant compromise, to sincere willingness to offer an apology or to compensate the outgroup.Of these group-based emotions, guilt has the greatest potential to contribute to the amelioration of intergroup relations in violent, protracted conflicts. Group-based guilt requires the fulfillment of several conditions, including perceived responsibility for the offense; a specific composition or level of identification with the transgressing group; and appraisal of the guilt-inducing action as unjust, immoral or unfair. Group-based guilt is not a prevalent emotion, and various defense mechanisms are frequently employed to curb it. However, when it does arise the experience of guilt in the name of the group can be an important factor in motivating individuals to support policies aimed at compensating victimized groups and their society, either through material reparations or more symbolic gestures such as formal apologies for the harm incurred. Guilt-driven ameliorative actions such as formal apologies or monetary compensation are an important step towards conflict resolution and reconciliation. While up-regulation of group-based guilt is a challenging process, several research directions demonstrate that this emotion can be induced and harnessed to promote conflict resolution and more harmonious intergroup relations.