Reparative Prosocial Behaviors Alleviate Children’s Guilt

Meghan Rose Donohue, Erin C. Tully

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Guilt theoretically functions to motivate reparative behaviors, which, in turn, theoretically alleviate guilt and prevent depression. Although empirical research supports these theories in adults, studies have notinvestigated causal relations between guilt and reparative behaviors in children. Thus, this studyexamined whether guilt motivates children’s reparative behaviors, and whether their reparative behaviorssuccessfully alleviate guilty feelings. Six-to 10-year olds (N = 97) were randomly assigned to 1 of 3conditions. Children in the experimental condition were led to believe they had transgressed to cause apeer’s distress. Children self-reported their guilt following the transgression, and then had the opportunityto repair the transgression by giving stickers and writing a note to the victimized peer. Following therepair opportunity, children self-reported their guilt a second time. Children in the experimental condition(i.e., children who felt guilty) engaged in greater reparative behavior than children in a no-guilt conditionwho were led to believe they had caused a peer’s slightly positive emotions. Further, children in theexperimental condition reported reduced guilt across the first to second guilt measurement, whereaschildren in the no-repair condition (who transgressed but did not have a repair opportunity) did not reportreduced guilt over time. Results demonstrate that guilt and reparative behaviors function as theorized inmiddle childhood and may begin to inform reparative interventions aimed at preventing maladaptive guiltand depression

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2102-2113
Number of pages12
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2019


  • Guilt
  • Moral development
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Reparative behavior
  • Transgressions


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