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Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2012 Mar;38(3):345-56. doi: 10.1177/0146167211424582. Epub 2011 Nov 14.

Forgiveness results from integrating information about relationship value and exploitation risk.

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  • 1University of Richmond, Richmond, VA 23173, USA. jburnet2@richmond.edu


Exploitation is a fact of life for social organisms, and natural selection gives rise to revenge mechanisms that are designed to deter such exploitations. However, humans may also possess cognitive forgiveness mechanisms designed to promote the restoration of valuable social relationships following exploitation. In the current article, the authors test the hypothesis that decisions about forgiveness result from a computational system that combines information about relationship value and exploitation risk to produce decisions about whom to forgive following interpersonal offenses. The authors examined the independent and interactive effects of relationship value and exploitation risk across two studies. In Study 1, controlling for other constructs related to forgiveness, the authors assessed relationship value and exploitation risk. In Study 2, participants experienced experimental manipulations of relationship value and exploitation risk. Across studies, using hypothetical and actual offenses and varied forgiveness measures, the combination of low exploitation risk and high relationship value predicted the greatest forgiveness.

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