Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice

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Volume 73 Issue 4 (December 2000), Pages 433-567

Survivor guilt, submissive behaviour and evolutionary theory: The down‐side of winning in social comparison (pages 519-530)

In prior research submissive behaviour has been studied in relation to social comparison. Evolutionary theory conceptualized submissive behaviour as a fear‐based self‐protective strategy when in a subordinate position. In this study we hypothesized that survivor guilt, the type of guilt associated with feeling better off than others, is also linked to submissive behaviour. The Interpersonal Guilt Questionnaire, the Submissive Behaviour Inventory, the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire‐Revised and the Automatic Thoughts Questionnaire were administered to a sample of 199 college students. Submissive behaviour was found to be significantly correlated with survivor guilt. Introversion, used as an indirect measure of the fear of being put down, was also correlated with submissive behaviour. A principal components analysis found two components: the first was composed of high loadings of submissiveness, survivor guilt and omnipotent responsibility guilt; the second was composed of high loadings of submissiveness and introversion. This supports the hypothesis that there may be two motivational states related to submissive behaviour, the fear of harm to the self, as described in prior studies, and the fear of harm to another or guilt‐based submissive behaviour. We propose that survivor guilt has been selected by evolution as a psychological mechanism supporting group living, and that it may be considered from the perspective of inclusive fitness, reciprocal altruism, and multilevel selection theory.

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