Anticipated guilt for not helping and anticipated warm glow for helping are differently impacted by personal responsibility to help

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


One important motivation for people behaving prosocially is that they want to avoid negative and obtain positive emotions. In the prosocial behavior literature however, the motivations to avoid negative emotions (e.g., guilt) and to approach positive emotions (e.g., warm glow) are rarely separated, and sometimes even aggregated into a single mood-management construct. The aim of this study was to investigate whether anticipated guilt if not helping and anticipated warm glow if helping are influenced similarly or differently when varying situational factors related to personal responsibility to help. Helping scenarios were created and pilot tests established that each helping scenario could be formulated both in a high-responsibility version and in a low-responsibility version. In Study 1 participants read high-responsibility and low-responsibility helping scenarios, and rated either their anticipated guilt if not helping or their anticipated warm glow if helping (i.e., separate evaluation). Study 2 was similar but here participants rated both their anticipated guilt if not helping and their anticipated warm glow if helping (i.e., joint evaluation). Anticipated guilt was clearly higher in the high-responsibility versions, but anticipated warm glow was unaffected (in Studies 1a and 1b), or even higher in the low-responsibility versions (Study 2). In Studies 3 (where anticipated guilt and warm glow were evaluated separately) and 4 (where they were evaluated jointly), personal responsibility to help was manipulated within-subjects. Anticipated guilt was again constantly higher in the high-responsibility versions but for many types of responsibility-manipulations, anticipated warm glow was higher in the low-responsibility versions. The results suggest that we anticipate guilt if not fulfilling our responsibility but that we anticipate warm glow primarily when doing over and beyond our responsibility. We argue that future studies investigating motivations for helping should measure both anticipated negative consequences for oneself if not helping, and anticipated positive consequences for oneself if helping.


  • Arvid Erlandsson
  • Amanda Jungstrand
  • Daniel Västfjäll
External organisations
  • Linköping University
  • Lund University
  • Decision Research
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Applied Psychology


  • Anticipated guilt, Anticipated warm glow, Emotion regulation, Motivations of helping, Negative state relief model, responsibility to help
Original languageEnglish
Article number1475
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberSEP
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Sep 28
Publication categoryResearch