News Release

NEW ORLEANS – Current research supports the notion that lifestyle choices influence cardiovascular health, but to what extent specific emotions play is undefined. Now, new research from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine has revealed the role that guilt may play as a motivational tool for cardiovascular patients.

Penn researchers interviewed 100 adult cardiology outpatients about the role that guilt plays in their adherence to instructions given by their physicians and as part of their views of their own health. The majority of the patients reported that guilt provides motivation to make lifestyle changes; this finding was associated with having children but no other demographics. When asked whether providers should routinely address guilt with their patients, over half of the patients said yes. Patients with a religious affiliation were more likely to answer that health practitioners should routinely address guilt.

Of the entire sample, 66 percent of patients had experienced a major cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack. Just over 20 percent of these patients reported feelings of guilt related to their health.  However, half of these patients wished they had taken better care of themselves, but had no feelings of guilt relating to their health. The study results were reported at the 2011 American College of Cardiology meeting in New Orleans.

“When counseling cardiovascular patients about lifestyle, practitioners should consider addressing guilt as both a motivation for, and a barrier to, lifestyle change, particularly in patients with religious backgrounds,” concluded senior author James Kirkpatrick, MD, assistant professor of Medicine, Cardiovascular Medicine Division at Penn. “Further research is needed to explore the impact of guilt motivation on patient outcomes.”


Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $5.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 18 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $373 million awarded in the 2015 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center -- which are recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report -- Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2015, Penn Medicine provided $253.3 million to benefit our community.

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