The Best Type of Pleasure

Is guilty pleasure. This explains why everything tastes better when you're on a diet.

Guilt is so often linked with pleasure that research by Kelly Goldsmith, an assistant professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, shows that making people feel the slightest bit guilty amplifies whatever pleasure they subsequently indulge.


participants who had been primed for guilt both liked the candy more and said they would be willing to pay more for it than those primed with neutral words. Guilt also made the initial pleasurable reaction last longer—the guilt-primed participants remembered liking the candies more than neutral-primed participants.

Pleasure and guilt

Guilt is linked with pleasure because often times when we experience guilt, we experience pleasure,” Goldsmith says. “I think for a lot of people these cognitive associations can form just based on what we called repeated coactivation. When pleasure’s activated, guilt is activated, and so in our brains, over time, those two become connected.”

Not all guilt is equal

Some experiences are more intense than others and may not enhance pleasure. Pretend a student has tickets to see a concert, Goldsmith suggests. If the student has to skip a homework assignment to go, he may feel a bit guilty, which could lead to a more enjoyable experience at the concert. But if the student’s grandmother passed away, the guilt from attending the concert as opposed to spending time with family would be overwhelming. The effect might not be the same as merely skipping a homework assignment.