Why does failed indulgence cause guilt?

When luxurious products disappoint, people feel more guilty than when utilitarian products do:

The primary insights this research provides are as follows: (1) a negative experience with the choice of a product with superior utilitarian and inferior hedonic benefits (e.g., a highly functional cell phone with poor attractiveness) over a product with superior hedonic and inferior utilitarian benefits evokes feelings of sadness, disappointment, and anger, (2) a negative experience with the choice of a product with superior hedonic and inferior utilitarian benefits (e.g., a highly attractive cell phone with poor functionality) over a product with superior utilitarian and inferior hedonic benefits evokes feelings of guilt and anxiety.

This is interesting because the failure of the product to satisfy isn’t caused by the indulgence of the buyer’s decision to buy it. Yet it’s as thoug the blame goes to the last decision the buyer made, and the problem with that decision is taken to be whatever felt bad about it at the time, however unrelated to the failure at hand. Or does the disappointment seem like punishment somehow for the original greed?

How general is this pattern? I think I feel more guilty when my less admirable intentions fail. Can you think of examples or counterexamples?

3 responses to “Why does failed indulgence cause guilt?

  1. is’nt this part of a problem termed ‘paradox of choice’?
    (There is a nice TED-video on that)

    If so, then to me this is a mapping problem:
    {personal values} {(usage) product attributes}
    Example spaghetti:
    pv={nourishing value, judgement of peers, cheap, nice package, advertising, hype factor, …}

    The more choices, the more complicated the mapping.

    To my understanding the ‘paradox of choice’ applies to the choice-process itself and is counteracted by the PRICE of the product, whch the study soes not seem
    to take into account.

    It is well known, that when buying a car, most people DO NOT admit any error.
    Marrying the wrong wife/husband is similar.
    The more expensive the ‘purchase’, the longer the duration of the denial of making the wrong choice.
    It even tends to change the value system, before such concessions are made.

    If You consider the {personal values} as an ordered set, then a bad choice
    challenges Your value system, THE MORE CHOICES YOU HAVE, i.e., You have to
    reorder Your value system, which is a painful experience in any case.

    You ask for examples.
    Here is one: Actors divorce or change partners more often than any other group I can think of. They even are high on the list of suicides or violent interactions.
    Actors are specialists in the art of the surface, because this is what brought them their fame in the first place.
    They order their value system according to what brings them success.
    And finally kills them.
    (Hitchcock: “These are my cattle” , referring to his idiot actors.)

    Connect the dots and You see, the wheel is once again reinvented.

  2. If you buy the luxury item expecting a certain level of benefit, but have a moral problem with buying it, then you’ve compromised with yourself in order to receive that benefit.
    If you find out you won’t get that benefit, then you’ll feel you’ve sold yourself way more cheaply than you did when you initially bought the item.

  3. We certainly expect this to be the case, if the normative assumptions of fiction writers are taken into account. A defeated villian who isn’t killed outright is always exiled in disgrace; a defeated hero is discouraged, but not exactly guilty (although he may express regret over those on his side that suffered from his failure).


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