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Guilt-Proneness is a Marker of Integrity and Employment Suitability

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Abstract

Guilt-proneness (GP) is an individual difference characterized by a tendency to feel bad about committing transgressions. We investigated how law enforcement job candidates’ guilt-proneness relates to their employment suitability, history of employment and legal problems, and counterproductive tendencies. By demonstrating relationships between GP and variables important for personnel selection and organizational functioning, this work highlights the potential utility of measuring this trait in applied settings where researchers and/or practitioners wish to gauge the integrity of respondents with a personality-based test. In light of its ability to predict employment suitability and counterproductive tendencies, the five-item guilt-proneness scale (GP-5) may prove to be a useful measure for pre-employment integrity assessment for public safety occupations, as well as other occupations where honesty and accountability are everyday concerns.
Guilt-proneness 1
Guilt-Proneness is a Marker of Integrity and Employment Suitability
Taya R. Cohen1, Yeonjeong Kim1, Kenyon P. Jordan2, A. T. Panter3
1 Carnegie Mellon University
2 Consulting Psychologist, Denver, CO
3 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Corresponding Author: Taya R. Cohen, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior &
Theory, Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh,
PA 15213. Phone: 1.412.268.6677. E-mail: tcohen@cmu.edu
Acknowledgements
We thank Lindsay Campbell for assistance with data collection.
Accepted December 2015
Cohen, T. R., Kim, Y., Jordan, K. P., & Panter, A. T. (2016). Guilt-proneness is a marker of
integrity and employment suitability. Personality and Individual Differences.
Guilt-proneness 2
Abstract
Guilt-proneness (GP) is an individual difference characterized by a tendency to feel bad about
committing transgressions. We investigated how law enforcement job candidates’ guilt-proneness
relates to their employment suitability, history of employment and legal problems, and
counterproductive tendencies. By demonstrating relationships between GP and variables
important for personnel selection and organizational functioning, this work highlights the
potential utility of measuring this trait in applied settings where researchers and/or practitioners
wish to gauge the integrity of respondents with a personality-based test. In light of its ability to
predict employment suitability and counterproductive tendencies, the five-item guilt-proneness
scale (GP-5) may prove to be a useful measure for pre-employment integrity assessment for
public safety occupations, as well as other occupations where honesty and accountability are
everyday concerns.
Highlights
The five-item guilt proneness scale (GP-5) is a brief measure of character.
Law enforcement job candidates completed the GP-5 and other selection measures.
Job candidates with low GP-5 scores were deemed less suitable for employment.
Low GP-5 scores were associated with greater counterproductive tendencies.
The GP-5 may prove useful for pre-employment integrity assessment.
Guilt-proneness 3
Guilt-proneness (GP) is an individual difference characterized by a tendency to feel bad
about committing transgressions. People with high levels of GP anticipate that they would feel
guilty about their behavior if they were to do wrong, whereas those with low levels anticipate no
such negative feelings about bad behavior. Highly guilt-prone employees commit fewer deviant
behaviors, and this relationship holds when controlling for other known correlates of
counterproductivity, such as interpersonal conflict at work, intention to turnover, negative affect,
and gender (Cohen et al., 2011, 2013a, 2013b, 2014). In general, people who are more guilt
prone have a stronger sense of responsibility to others, which contributes to them being judged as
better leaders (Schaumberg & Flynn, 2012), more committed to their jobs (Flynn & Schaumberg,
2012), and less likely to take advantage of other people (Wiltermuth & Cohen, 2014). Guilt-
proneness measured in fifth-graders predicts illegal behavior during young adulthood and
involvement in the criminal justice system at ages 18 to 21 (Stuewig et al., 2015).
Despite the growing literature on GP and moral character, research has yet to examine
this trait in high-stakes personnel selection settings where individuals’ responses could have
consequences for their future employment. The goal of this report is to address this concern by
providing evidence of how guilt-proneness is a marker of integrity and employment suitability
using data from a study of law enforcement job applicants in the state of Colorado who were
required to undergo psychological screening by their hiring authority. Specifically, we
investigated the viability of measuring guilt-proneness for personnel selection by examining how
it relates to law enforcement job candidates’ employment suitability, history of employment and
legal problems, and counterproductive tendencies. By testing the relationship between guilt-
proneness and variables important for personnel selection and organizational functioning, our
goal is to highlight the potential utility of measuring this trait in applied settings where
Guilt-proneness 4
researchers and/or practitioners wish to gauge the integrity of respondents with a personality-
based test.
Method
The sample consisted of 155 job applicants applying for work with law enforcement
agencies in Colorado over an eight-month period. Colorado requires law enforcement applicants
to undergo psychological evaluation as part of the hiring process, and many agencies require
psychological testing for commissioned and non-commissioned positions. Unlike other settings
where the applicant’s self-report may be biased, incomplete, or outright misleading, the subjects
in this sample knew their responses to biographical questions would be cross-referenced using
resources that include criminal databases, employment records, third-party data, and truth
verification procedures (i.e., structured polygraph or computer voice stress analysis).
Applicants completed all the measures and an interview (lasting 45 minutes or more) in
one day in a controlled test environment under supervision of a psychologist. As part of the
assessment, all participants responded to the five-item guilt-proneness scale (GP-5; Cohen, Kim,
Panter, 2014).1 Seven response options were provided, anchored at extremely unlikely (1) and
extremely likely (7). A sample item is: “You lie to people but they never find out about it. What is
the likelihood that you would feel terrible about the lies you told?” GP was calculated by
averaging participants’ responses to the five items.
The alpha coefficient was lower in this sample (α=.54) than in prior studies (cf. α=.80 in
Cohen, Panter, et al., 2014), possibly because there was less variance and the range was restricted
to the positive end of the response scale. Despite this, model fit statistics from a confirmatory
1 The fifth item in the scale was added after data collection for this study had begun. As a result, we have
missing data on this item for 56 participants.
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factor analysis were very good and factor loadings were acceptably high (Table 1). Moreover, we
observed variability among respondents, allowing us to examine the GP-5’s relationships with
other measures included in the evaluation battery.
The evaluation battery included a 13-page Personal History Questionnaire (PHQ). For
this research, we focused on applicants’ employment history, legal history, and drug history. For
employment history, participants were asked to indicate the number of times they were fired or
forced to leave a job (not including layoffs) and the number of times they received work-related
warnings or disciplinary actions. We tested whether GP was correlated with whether the
applicant had ever been fired from a job (0 = never fired, 1 = fired 1 or more times), as well as
whether they had ever received a warning or disciplinary action at work (0 = never received a
warning or disciplinary action, 1 = received 1 or more warnings or disciplinary actions). Legal
history information included: number of arrests, summons, suspensions or revocation of one’s
license, moving citations within the last five years, and involvement in motor vehicle accidents
during the past five years regardless of fault. We created a sum-scored composite of the number
of arrests, summons, and driver’s license suspensions, and another sum-scored composite of
traffic tickets and accidents during the past 5 years. Drug history was assessed by asking
participants to indicate whether they had ever tried or used illegal drugs (i.e., cannabis, opiates,
methamphetamine or stimulants, ecstasy, cocaine, analgesics, CNS depressants, and illegal
steroids). We created a sum-scored illegal drug use composite of the number of different classes
of illegal drugs the applicant reported trying.
The Shipley Institute of Living Scale-2 (SILS-2) is a timed measure of cognitive
functioning that consists of two parts: a 10-minute vocabulary test and a 12-minute problem-
Guilt-proneness 6
solving test (Shipley et al., 2009). We report the SILS-2 results to show evidence of discriminant
validity.
The California Psychological Inventory (CPI-434) is a self-report measure of personality
that contains 434 items (Gough, 1996). We expected GP to correlate with many of the Class II
and Class III scales, but not necessarily the Class I and Class IV scales. We also examined Vector
3 of the CPI, which captures overall growth, development, and integration of one’s personality,
and places people in one of seven different levels of ego integration. People at lower levels of
integration (levels 1 and 2) are described as distressed, unfulfilled and opposed to the culture
they live in. Individuals scoring at level 4 and above are increasingly at harmony with their
culture, feel useful and have limited difficulty coping with life.
The counterproductive tendencies (Cp) scale is a composite of 80 CPI items, with the
majority drawn from the self-control (Sc), Socialization (So), and Responsibility (Re) scales
from Class II. As described by Hakstian et al. (2002, p. 60), the Cp scale represents an
“underlying individual-difference personality constellation” that predicts “a multi-faceted
constellation or syndrome of behaviors that are detrimental to the objectives of the organization
and/or work group—dysfunctional behaviors such as property theft, drug and alcohol abuse,
dishonesty, disruptiveness, failing to meet standards, absenteeism, tardiness, and withholding
effort.” Higher scores indicate a greater predisposition toward counterproductive behaviors and
lower scores indicate a greater predisposition toward constructive and responsible behaviors.
The candidate’s overall suitability for the job was determined by a practicing public-
safety psychologist. Though arguably subjective, this rating is based not only on psychometric
data and biographical data, but also the candidate’s ability to answer questions about his or her
history during the interview, the candidate’s demonstrated maturity and candor, as well as the
Guilt-proneness 7
psychologist’s professional judgment. The rating is based on evidence-based principles of
Structured Professional Judgment (SPJ), and similar assessments have been used in past research
in police and public safety (Sarchione et al., 1998). Ratings are communicated using a five-point
scale such that candidates rated a 1 or 2 are below average and are not recommended for hire.
Candidates rated a 3 are considered average (some strengths and some potential risk factors) and
are suitable for hire. Candidates rated 4 are above average and those rated a 5 are highly
recommended. A simple numerical rating cannot capture all facets of a psychological evaluation,
but ratings do help to clarify communication with the client organization and streamline the
decision-making process.
Although the applicants’ responses to the individual guilt-proneness items were included
in the PHQ and therefore available to the psychologist while conducting the interview and
formulating a final rating, the scores were not incorporated as part of the decision making
process, and total composite scores were not computed until after the candidate suitability ratings
were made. It is possible that the psychologist’s judgment could have been implicitly
contaminated by having access to candidates’ responses to the individual items but the possibility
of such contamination is minimal in our view. From a practical standpoint, use of an applicant’s
guilt-proneness score would have been difficult because the psychologist did not have
knowledge of applicants’ total scores nor the scale’s descriptive statistics. Without access to such
information, and given the complication of potential differences between this sample and others
that have been used in previous research, the psychologist had no benchmark for making any
determinations about candidates’ guilt-proneness based on the individual item responses that
were embedded in the 13-page questionnaire.
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Results & Discussion
Although we observed considerably higher scores and a more limited range in this
sample, we nonetheless found that GP was correlated with variables important to employee
selection (Tables 2 & 3). A Multivariate Analysis of Covariance (MANCOVA) with GP entered
as a continuous predictor variable and variables 2 through 8 in Table 2 entered as dependent
variables yielded a significant effect of GP, F(7, 146)=4.19, p<.001, with the largest effect on the
CPI counterproductive tendencies index, followed by the psychologist’s overall evaluation of the
candidate’s suitability for employment. Forty-nine percent of the applicants in the lowest guilt-
proneness quartile in this sample reported being fired from a previous job, whereas only 29% of
the applicants in the highest guilt-proneness quartile in this sample reported being fired from a
previous job. Moreover, job applicants with guilt-proneness scores in the lowest 10th percentile in
the sample were determined to be unsuitable for hire (average employment suitability ratings <
3) for public safety positions by a practicing psychologist charged with making clinical
evaluations of job candidates.
Guilt-proneness was associated with the frequency of moving citations and motor vehicle
accidents during the past five years, with those low scores reporting more traffic
violations/accidents than those with high scores. However, GP was not associated with
candidates’ histories of arrests, summons, license suspensions, or illegal drug use. Although we
had hypothesized relationships with these criterion variables, it is possible the null findings
resulted from pre-selection efforts and the low base-rate of such activities among public safety
job applicants. GP was not correlated with the SILS-2, which provides evidence of discriminant
validity and suggests that guilt-proneness is not associated with intelligence as measured by a
standardized instrument.
Guilt-proneness 9
As indicated by the CPI correlations shown in Table 3, job candidates with low GP scores
were found to be less responsible, industrious, and achievement oriented as compared to other
job applicants—all of which suggests that job candidates low in guilt-proneness pose significant
risk for organizations. In contrast, highly guilt-prone individuals are likely to be among the most
conscientious and productive employees in public safety occupations, as well as a host of other
jobs requiring integrity and responsible behaviors.
Finally, guilt-proneness was correlated with the good impression scale from the CPI. We
believe this correlation represents substantive variance rather than methodological artifact in that
people who are more guilt-prone are known to be more oriented toward others and their
relationships as compared to people who are less guilt-prone (Cohen et al., 2011, 2014).
Nonetheless, this result suggests that practitioners making psychological assessments should
interpret self-reported GP scores with caution and make holistic judgments from a battery of tests
rather than relying exclusively on a single measure or method.
Conclusions
The five-item guilt proneness scale (GP-5) is much briefer than most personality
measures used in applied settings and might afford employers an avenue to quickly screen for a
highly relevant character trait using a cost-effective measure. Key advantages are that it is quick
and easy to administer and it is a targeted assessment of a critical moral character trait rather than
a lengthy personality battery that captures information that is irrelevant or only tangentially
related to moral character. In light of its ability to predict employment suitability and
counterproductive tendencies, this scale may prove useful for pre-employment integrity
assessment for public safety occupations, as well as in customer service settings and banking,
where honesty and accountability are everyday concerns. Those interested in workplace
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deviance, integrity testing, moral character, and other related topics could benefit by including a
measure of guilt-proneness in their research studies and integrity testing toolkits.
Guilt-proneness 11
References
Cohen, T.R., Kim, Y., & Panter, A.T. (2014). The five-item guilt-proneness scale (GP-5).
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA. doi:
http://dx.doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.1.2847.2167
Cohen, T.R., Panter, A.T., & Turan, N. (2013a). Predicting counterproductive work behavior
from guilt-proneness. Journal of Business Ethics, 114, 45-53.
Cohen, T.R., Panter, A.T., Turan, N., Morse, L., & Kim, Y. (2013b). Agreement and similarity in
self-other perceptions of moral character. Journal of Research in Personality, 47, 816-
830.
Cohen, T.R., Panter, A.T., Turan, N., Morse, L.A., & Kim, Y. (2014). Moral character in the
workplace. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107, 943-963.
Cohen, T.R., Wolf, S.T., Panter, A.T., & Insko, C.A. (2011). Introducing the GASP scale: A new
measure of guilt and shame proneness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
100(5), 947-966.
Flynn, F.J., & Schaumberg, R.L. (2012). When feeling bad leads to feeling good: guilt-proneness
and affective organizational commitment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97, 124-133.
Gough, H.G. (1996). CPI Manual (3rd ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press. Palo
Alto, CA.
Hakstian, A.R., Farrell, S., & Tweed, R.G. (2002). The assessment of counterproductive
tendencies by menas of the California Psychological Inventory. International Journal of
Selection and Assessment, 10, 58-86.
Guilt-proneness 12
Sarchione, C. D., Cuttler, M. J., Muchinsky, P. M., & Nelson-Gray, R. O. (1998). Prediction of
dysfunctional job behaviors among law enforcement officers. Journal of Applied
Psychology, 83, 904-912.
Schaumberg, R.L., & Flynn, F.J. (2012). Uneasy lies the head the wears the crown: The link
between guilt-proneness and leadership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
103, 327-342.
Shipley, W.C., Gruber, C. P., Martin, T.A., & Klein, A.M. (2009). Shipley-2 Manual, Western
Psychological Services, Los Angeles, CA.
Stuewig, J., Tangney, J.P., Kendall, S., Folk, J.B., Meyer, C.R., & Dearing, R.L. (2015).
Children’s Proneness to Shame and Guilt Predict Risky and Illegal Behaviors in Young
Adulthood. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 46, 217-227.
Wiltermuth, S. S., & Cohen, T. R. (2014). “I’d only let you down”: Guilt-proneness and
the avoidance of harmful interdependence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107,
925-942.
Guilt-proneness 13
Table 1
Confirmatory Factor Analysis of the Five-Item Guilt Proneness Scale (GP-5)
Model Fit
χ2(df = 5) 3.25
RMSEA (90% C.I.) .000 (.000, .089)
CFI 1.00
TLI 1.02
Weighted Root Mean Square
Residual (WRMR)
.289
Item Factor loadings (with
standard errors)
(1) too much change 0.56 (0.09)**
(2) secret felony 0.65 (0.10)**
(3) cover wine spill 0.85 (0.06)**
(4) tell lies 0.86 (0.07)**
(5) break the copier 0.58 (0.10)**
Note. N = 155. **p < .001. All p-values are two-tailed tests. A one-factor solution with WLSMV
estimation was calculated.
Guilt-proneness 14
Table 2
Bivariate Correlations
M SD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
1. Guilt-proneness 6.57 0.52 --
2. Candidate suitability rating 3.26 0.72 .19* --
3. Ever fired 0.37 0.48 -.14+ -.24* --
4. Ever received disciplinary action 0.55 0.50 -.01 -.14+ .33* --
5. Legal problems 0.83 1.16 .06 -.27** .22* .18* --
6. Driving offences 1.46 1.64 -.17* -.19* .05 -.06 .06 --
7. Illegal drug use 0.72 0.78 .01 -.10 .12 -.03 .09 -.03 --
8. Counterproductive tendencies 19.65 7.13 -.35** -.37** .16* .11 .07 .12 .16* --
9. Shipley vocabulary 105.47 10.52 -.03 .21* .03 -.02 -.16+ .13 .08 .08 --
10. Shipley problem-solving 99.48 12.46 -.13 .19* .05 .09 -.31 .12 .06 .06 .45** --
11. Female 0.23 0.42 .12 -.07 -.09 -.08 -.17* .01 -.04 -.02 .06 .04 --
12. Age 32.72 10.72 .12 .06 .03 .13 .19* -.33** .07 -.08 .01 -.13 .03
Note. N=155. +p<.10; *p< .05, **p<.001. All p-values are two-tailed tests. Variables significant at p< .001 are bolded.
Guilt-proneness 15
Table 3
Correlations between Guilt-proneness and California Psychological Inventory Scales
California Psychological Inventory (CPI-434) Mean (SD) Correlation with
Guilt-proneness
Class I scales
Dominance (Do) 63.10 (8.12) .10
Capacity for Status (Cs) 56.45 (6.70) .19*
Sociability (Sy) 57.70 (6.79) -.01
Social Presence (Sp) 52.46 (7.19) -.03
Self acceptance, self confidence (Sa) 55.30 (6.93) .00
Independence (In) 57.92 (5.98) .16*
Empathy (Em) 56.57 (7.67) .12
Class II scales
Responsibility (Re) 57.45 (6.00) .38**
Socialization, conformity (So) 56.05 (5.52) .12
Self-Control (Sc) 63.35 (7.62) .30**
Good impression, a validity scale (Gi) 67.29 (7.72) .30**
Communality, a validity scale (Cm) 55.83 (4.61) -.09
Well-being, a validity scale (Wb) 59.61 (5.19) .08
Tolerance (To) 58.98 (7.34) .27*
Class III scales
Achievement through conformity (Ac) 61.03 (5.46) .29**
Achievement through independence (Ai) 57.73 (6.72) .24*
Intellectual efficiency (Ie) 56.40 (6.14) .24*
Class IV scales
Psychological mindedness (Py) 57.45 (6.43) .32**
Flexibility (Fx) 50.40 (8.29) .07
Vector Score
Level of integration, degree of comfort
with oneself (Level)
5.85 (1.27) .27*
Counterproductive tendencies (Cp) 19.65 (7.13) -.35**
Note. N=155. +p<.10; *p< .05, **p<.001. All p-values are two-tailed tests. Variables significant
at p<.001 are bolded.
... In view of this finding, it is possible that individuals subject to focalism reduction manipulations realize they will likewise quickly adapt to the pangs of guilt experienced after unethical and selfish behavior and be thus more likely to engage in such acts. This discussion in turn suggests that personal dispositions that lead individuals to be highly attuned to the costs of unethical and selfish behavior, such as moral character and guilt-proneness (Cohen, Panter, &amp; Turan, 2012;Cohen, Kim, Jordan, &amp; Panter, 2015), may moderate the relationship between focalism and unethical/selfish behavior. For instance, this relationship may actually reverse for individuals high in guilt-proneness if reducing focalism helps those individuals realize that guilt would not be as intense or as durable as they anticipate. ...
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