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Using Guilt As Prod to Change Behavior for Heart Health

When it comes to improving heart health, behavioral change related to diet, exercise and stress can mean the difference between life and death. With that in mind, researchers are looking at a potentially powerful motivator of change: guilt.

New research reported at the 2011 American College of Cardiology annual meeting investigates the role of emotions — specifically guilt — as a motivational factor for cardiovascular patients.

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine researchers interviewed 100 adult cardiology outpatients about the role that guilt plays in their adherence to instructions given by their physicians and as part of their views of their own health.

They discovered a majority of the patients report that guilt provides motivation to make lifestyle changes. Interestingly, this finding was associated with having children, but no other demographic factors.

A majority of study participants believed health care providers should routinely address guilt with their patients. The concept of using guilt as a motivator was strongly supported by patients with a religious affiliation.

Of the entire sample, 66 percent of patients had experienced a major cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack. However, just over 20 percent of these patients reported feelings of guilt related to their health.

Still, half of these patients wished they had taken better care of themselves, but had no feelings of guilt relating to their health.

“When counseling cardiovascular patients about lifestyle, practitioners should consider addressing guilt as both a motivation for, and a barrier to, lifestyle change, particularly in patients with religious backgrounds,” concluded senior author James Kirkpatrick, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine, Cardiovascular Medicine Division at Penn.

“Further research is needed to explore the impact of guilt motivation on patient outcomes.”

Source: University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Using Guilt As Prod to Change Behavior for Heart Health

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Using Guilt As Prod to Change Behavior for Heart Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 19, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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