Evidence for a distinct forgiveness prototype: Convergent and discriminant validity
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The following studies adopt prototype theory to investigate the lay conceptualization of forgiveness from a social cognitive perspective. Previous prototype research (e.g., Fehr, 1999; Hassebrauck, 1997; Russell & Fehr, 1994) with social-psychological constructs has focused on convergent evidence of a concept's prototypical structure; rather than provide evidence of how the hypothesized prototype discriminates between similar conceptual categories. The present research documents evidence of both convergent and discriminant validity for a lay forgiveness prototype. In Study 1, participants (N=220) responded to a free response questionnaire and listed a wide variety of forgiveness features. In Study 2, participants (N=83) reliably distinguished between central and peripheral features. Study 3 revealed that participants (N=36) favoured more central features, compared to peripheral features, when distinguishing forgiveness from other victim responses (avoiding, condoning, denying, dissipating, excusing, and retaliating). Study 4 found that participants (N=81) judged hypothetical forgiving responses incorporating central forgiveness features as more forgiving than those hypothetical responses incorporating peripheral features. Finally, Study 5 (N=300) showed that regardless of individual differences in the tendency to forgive others, participants reliably used the forgiveness features (primarily central features) to discriminate between forgiveness and other types of victim responses in hypothetical scenarios. These results replicate and extend prior research on forgiveness (Keams and Fincham, 2004), and support the psychological reality of a forgiveness prototype distinct from other victim responses. Explanations and implications for theories of forgiveness are discussed.