May the best man lose: Guilt inhibits competitive motivation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Both guilt and competition motivate goal achievement. Guilt increases task motivation, but also enhances prosocial goals. Competition motivates individual success, but its zero-sum nature makes personal and prosocial goals mutually exclusive. This work explores the relationship between guilt, competition and goal-achievement motivation. In five experiments, guilt was associated with higher motivation to achieve individual goals, but its effect on motivation in competitive settings was negative. Unlike guilt, shame, the emotion most closely related to it, did not affect competitive motivation. The studies identify a conflict between personal and prosocial goals, both activated by guilt, as the cause for reduced competitive motivation. When outperforming others did not harm their interests, or when competitive achievement could also benefit others, the motivation of guilty competitors returned to its typical high level. The results demonstrate the power of emotions and competitive incentives on goal-directed behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-33
Number of pages19
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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