Guilt, a self-conscious emotion, includes self-focused role taking and also correlates with other-oriented role-taking. Excess guilt proneness might be relevant to obsessive compulsive disorders. The white matter (WM) neural correlates of the degree of guilt have not yet been determined. We hypothesized that the WM structures involved in feelings of guilt are associated with social and moral cognition (inferior parietal lobule [IPL], prefrontal cortex [PFC], and cingulate), and aimed to visualize this using diffusion MRI. We investigated the association between regional WM structures (WM volume, and fractional anisotropy, and mean diffusivity [MD]), and feelings of guilt in 1196 healthy, young students using MRI and the Guilty Feeling Scale, which comprises interpersonal situation (IPS; guilt from hurting friends) and rule-breaking situation (RBS; deontological guilt) scores. The primary novel finding presented here is that MD in the right somatosensory and motor cortices from arm to hand were positively correlated with RBS scores. Further, consistent with our hypothesis, RBS scores were positively correlated with MD in the same regions. These results would be predicted by the Macbeth effect, an obsession with dirt leading to hand-washing rituals resulting from guilt, made famous by the Shakespearian character Lady Macbeth. “What, will these hands ne’er be clean?” William Shakespeare (Shakespeare, 1606) Macbeth.
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