Publication Date




Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Psychology (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Michael E. McCullough

Second Committee Member

Debra Lieberman

Third Committee Member

Sierra A. Bainter

Fourth Committee Member

Caleb Everett

Fifth Committee Member

Blaine J. Fowers


Why do people continue to interact with others who have harmed them in the past? A plausible explanation is that people possess cognitive mechanisms that enable them to evaluate whether past transgressions would be indicative of future transgressions (i.e., risk of future exploitation) and whether the costs of the transgression negate the value of the relationship (i.e., future relationship value). Psychologists have put forth theory and empirical evidence to suggest that when transgressors apologize, it causes victims to perceive the transgressor as less exploitative and of higher relationship value, and that these intermediate psychological changes ultimately cause forgiveness. Recently, scholars sought to determine whether apologies caused forgiveness due to their intermediate effects on relationship value by manipulating relationship value prior to a transgression, which demonstrated that apologies were less effective at causing forgiveness for high value, compared to low value, relationship partners. In this experiment, which I conducted on 902 subjects, I used a similar approach to test whether the effect of apologies on forgiveness differed based on how exploitative social partners appeared prior to a transgression. I found that the influence of apologies on forgiveness was positive and uniform in magnitude, regardless of whether the transgressor had appeared for other reasons to be of high, moderate, or low exploitation risk. Importantly, the effects of exploitation risk also caused differences in forgiveness, but the lack of interaction between the apology and exploitation risk manipulations suggests that apologies do not appear to cause forgiveness via the same psychological mechanisms as perceived exploitation risk.


apologies; forgiveness; exploitation; transgressions; relationship value; causal mediation

Available for download on Tuesday, April 21, 2020