If We Don't Feel Socially Accepted, We Get More Defensive When We've Done Something Wrong

Posted on March 18, 2021

Yet defensiveness often has negative consequences anyway: it can hurt someone else’s feelings, cloud your ability to make a good decision in the moment, or prevent you from changing harmful behaviours.

But why do we get defensive, and what can we do to minimise those negative consequences? A new study from Michael Wenzel and colleagues at Flinders University, asks both of these questions — and finds that defensiveness could be reduced by affirming people’s moral and social worth.

In the first study, 187 participants were asked to recall an incident in which they had wronged somebody else, writing a brief description of what they had done. They then rated how severe the transgression was, the importance of their relationship with the person they had wronged, how guilty they felt and how much they accepted blame (e.g. “I wasn’t the one to blame for what happened”), and how loved and accepted they felt despite any wrongdoing.

The results suggested that those participants who felt a higher need for belonging were more likely to engage in defensiveness: the more “implicit” guilt they showed on the test, the less likely they were to assert that they were to blame for the incident they outlined. Those who felt socially accepted, on the other hand, were more likely to express explicit guilt as their level of implicit guilt increased.

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Category(s):Social Isolation

Source material from British Psychological Society