Guilt or Fear?

In which Russ' s daughter fails to show the appropriate emotional response when caught eating chocolate for breakfast

Easter did not get off to a good start in our house, one member of the family broke all the rules and started eating Easter Eggs before breakfast. The guilty party can be seen in the picture below.

 Esther takes an early lead in the Easter Egg Hunt!

Esther takes an early lead in the Easter Egg Hunt!

In fairness the look on my youngest daughters face was priceless when caught, she clearly knew she was doing something 'wrong' though that didn't stop her cramming as much of the chocolate in her mouth as possible before my wife intervened. 

To suggest she appeared guilty may have been pushing it. As I was then in trouble for taking amusing photos rather than intervening I decided to go off and research guilt as an emotion.

Firstly what is guilt? We have all experienced it, but as with many emotional states it is hard to define. It is experienced as an unpleasant internal state and requires us to recognise our actions or intended actions have caused or potentially caused harm to others psychologically or physically. This is an extremely complex process involving theory of mind or empathy---that ability which allows us to place ourselves in someone else's shoes and 'feel' how they would feel. It is connected with fear of punishment, but in some ways has additional components and is more complex.

There are multiple theories of emotional development including, in my view, bizarre psycho-sexual Freudian ones.

An evolutionary psychologist would theorise we have developed this as a human behaviour to be 'kind' to each other in a group as this increases our own survival chances, a process termed reciprocal altruism.

What about people who don't experience guilt? Well, unfortunately there are some. People with psychopathy don't experience guilt as they lack the ability to empathise. Such people in general are not good to be around.  

In reality my daughter is unlikely to have experienced guilt, but rather fear. My eldest daughter however displayed theory of mind and cunning by pointing out the injustice of her now not being allowed to have chocolate for breakfast. So hey! We all had chocolate for breakfast and no more guilt.