NEW YORK: If you want to identify who is the most trustworthy person in your team, then pick the one who is more prone to feeling guilty, says a study.
The findings showed that a person’s tendency to anticipate feeling guilty, which the researchers call “guilt-proneness,” is the strongest predictor of how trustworthy that person is — more so than a variety of other personality traits (extraversion, openness, agreeableness, neuroticism, and conscientiousness).
Guilt-proneness differs from guilt, as it reflects the anticipation of guilt over wrongdoing and causes people to avoid transgressing in the first place. On the other hand, guilt elicits reparative behaviour following a transgression.
People who rank high in guilt-proneness feel a greater sense of interpersonal responsibility when they are entrusted, and as such, are less likely to exploit the trust others place in them.
“Trust and trustworthiness are critical for effective relationships and effective organisations,” said Emma Levine from University of Chicago.
“Individuals and institutions incur high costs when trust is misplaced, but people can mitigate these costs by engaging in relationships with individuals who are trustworthy.
“Our findings extend the substantial literature on trust by deepening our understanding of trustworthiness: When deciding in whom to place trust, trust the guilt-prone,” Levine said.
For the study, published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the team conducted a series of six studies including economic games and surveys to measure trustworthy behaviour and intentions.
They found that individuals who scored high in the personality trait of guilt-proneness returned more money to others than individuals who scored low in guilt-proneness.
Further, individuals who were primed to behave responsibly as a result of reading a code of conduct were more likely to return money to others than the individuals who read a passage about the importance of looking out for themselves.
“Our research suggests that if you want your employees to be worthy of trust, make sure they feel personally responsible for their behaviour and that they expect to feel guilty about wrongdoing,” Levine said.