Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Joseph C. LaVoie

Second Advisor

Roni Reiter-Palmon

Third Advisor

Bridgette O. Ryalls


The purpose of this study was to extend the adolescent and adult research and assess how forgiveness develops in elementary school-aged children. Sixty-three children aged 7 to 12 reported how willing they would be to forgive three types of transgressions (emotional, physical, and property) involving an accidental or deliberate act, with or without an apology, and of either low or high severity. In addition, empathy, prosocial behavior, and religiosity were measured. Age, empathy, prosocial behavior, and religiosity were not related to willingness to forgive as had been expected. However, gender differences were found, with boys reporting a greater willingness to forgive than girls. As hypothesized, the children reported being more willing to forgive transgressions when an apology for the act was given, when the act was accidental, and when the transgression was of low severity. Unexpectedly, the children were more willing to forgive transgressions involving emotional damage than transgressions resulting in either property or physical damage. As expected, the children were least willing to forgive transgressions involving acts of physical aggression. A number of interactions were found, indicating a more complex relationship between the situational variables under study. An apology seemed to have the greatest influence on willingness to forgive; however, the effectiveness of an apology was decreased when the transgression was deliberate or resulted in severe harm. In general, the younger children’s willingness to forgive was influenced by the situational variables to the same degree as the older children, demonstrating that by age seven children take into consideration the intention, severity, and the lack of an apology when deciding to forgive a transgression. Baumeister, Exline, and Sommer’s (1998) dimensions of forgiveness (total forgiveness, hollow forgiveness, silent forgiveness, and no forgiveness) were explored in the current sample. The pattern of findings using Baumeister et al.’s types of forgiveness by children suggest a trend towards greater use of hollow forgiveness (i.e., reconciling with the wrongdoer but maintaining negative cognitions or emotions towards the transgressor) in girls and total forgiveness (i.e., reconciling with the wrongdoer and holding positive thoughts and feelings towards the transgressor) in boys.

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