Effects of objective and subjective account components on forgiving

J Soc Psychol. 2004 Oct;144(5):465-85. doi: 10.3200/SOCP.144.5.465-486.


The authors explored the effects of the components of a harm-doer's account of her transgression on the victims' emotional reactions to the transgression and to the character traits that she attributes to the harm-doer. Participants were 480 people whom the authors asked to imagine an incident in which they were harmed by the careless behavior of a friend. Subsequently, the authors offered participants an account of the harm-doer. In a 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 between-subjects design, the authors manipulated 5 account components: Admitting Fault, Admitting Damage, Expressing Remorse, Asking for Pardon, and Offering Compensation. The authors measured the participants' perceptions of these components. Results indicated that (a) the subjective perception of account components occurs schematically so that components are implicitly perceived without being objectively present, (b) objective components affect victims' reactions via subjective perceptions of these components, (c) personality factors (Irreconcilability, Interpersonal Trust, and Trait Anger) affect victims' reactions directly. Finally, certain configurations of account components are more effective than others. Specifically, asking for pardon had an effect on forgiving only when it was combined with an acknowledgment of the damage and a compensation offer. This result suggests that in this situation, the victim perceives a harm-doer's asking for pardon without the other components as an insincere apology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Character*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality Inventory
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Justice*
  • Social Perception
  • Social Responsibility
  • Trust