Understanding the Perpetrator’s Experience: Shame, Guilt, and Forgiveness

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Xie, Elisabeth Bailin




Research on transgressions has focused almost exclusively on the experience of the victim. Extrapolating from the attributional theory of motivation and emotion, this research aimed to gain a better understanding of how individuals make sense of a perpetrator's experience following transgressions. In three studies (combined N = 288; 73.3% female; Mage = 21.3) undergraduate students read hypothetical transgressions and assessed perceived likelihood of shame, guilt, forgiveness seeking, and self-forgiveness from the actor in each scenario. Results suggest that people sometimes do make a distinction between shame and guilt and that causal attributions and whether victims were involved in the transgression may aid people in making this distinction. Results also suggest that causal attributions, the presence of other victims, and perceived emotions may influence perceptions about forgiveness. These findings may allow for a more in-depth understanding of the psychology of transgressions and may have implications for law and conflict resolution.


Psychology - Social




Carleton University

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