For Biology students in the College of Creative Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara.
Thursday, May 19, 2016
Why do we feel guilt?
So today John mentioned this question and although we didn't spend much time on it it really struck me as something strange. Why, exactly, do we feel guilt. I mean, what was its evolutionary benefit. I've never really thought about it before so I wanted to see if there was any research on this topic. I found this article from Peter R. Breggin from the Center for the Study of Empathetic Therapy. He makes the point that humans by nature are quite violent. Because of this violent nature, it would have been difficult for humans to live together in close-knit families and thus evolution's answer was the development of guilt, shame and anxiety. In other words, "internal emotional inhibitions or restraints specifically against aggressive self-assertion within the family and other close relationships". Beggin called this concept the theory of negative legacy emotions. It basically says that "natural selection favored individuals with built-in emotional restraints that reduced conflicts within their family and tribal unit, optimizing their capacity to survive and reproduce within the protection of their small, intimate societies, while maintaining their capacity for violence against outsiders". I thought this concept was really interesting and it does provide logical support for the evolutionary development of guilt.