Feeling guilty to remain innocent: the moderating effect of sex on guilt responses to rule-violating behavior in adolescent legal socialization

Lindsey M. Cole, University of New Hampshire - Main Campus
Ellen S. Cohn, University of New Hampshire - Main Campus
Cesar J. Rebellon, University of New Hampshire
Karen T. Van Gundy, University of New Hampshire


Legal socialization researchers have ignored the role of emotions such as guilt to explain rule-violating behavior (RVB). The purpose of Study 1 was to determine if anticipated guilt or guilt proneness was a better predictor of RVB. Participants were 325 university students who completed an online questionnaire. Correlations indicated that both measures were related significantly to RVB; however, when both were entered into a multiple regression as predictors, only anticipated guilt was significant. This suggested that anticipated guilt was a stronger predictor of RVB than guilt proneness. The purpose of Study 2 was to investigate the effects of anticipated guilt on future RVB while controlling for the integrated legal socialization variables. Participants were 283 middle school and 187 high school students. Multiple regression analyses were conducted to predict students' future engagement in RVB. Anticipated guilt predicted RVB for middle school and high school students. However, sex moderated these effects. Male students low in anticipated guilt committed more RVBs than male students high in guilt. Female high school students showed a similar effect but not at the same magnitude as the male students. Guilt had no significant effect on RVB for female middle school students. Implications for the findings are discussed.