The psychological immune response in the face of transgressions: Pseudo self-forgiveness and threat to belonging

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    Effective processing of a transgression must involve accepting responsibility for one's wrongdoing. However accepting responsibility may mean increasing the threat of social exclusion which offenders face as a result of their transgression, yet humans are fundamentally motivated to avoid this type of threat. Pseudo self-forgiveness is the use of minimization of harm, denial of wrongdoing, or victim derogation in order to release oneself from guilt and shame. This research examines the defensive psychological process of pseudo self-forgiveness and the impact of threat to belonging on a transgressor's engagement with this defensive response in both an experimental setting and real life. Study 1 used a lab based approach, manipulating the threat to belonging with an ostracism task. Ostracized participants minimized harm to the victim, reported less shame, regret and self-anger and less desire to reconcile with the victim. Study 2 followed participants over the 11. days after committing an interpersonal transgression. Results of analyses with linear mixed modeling suggest that the more rejected participants felt the more they engaged in pseudo self-forgiveness. Hostile responses from the victim were positively associated with pseudo self-forgiveness and others' respectful confrontation was negatively associated with pseudo self-forgiveness. Results suggest that need for belonging is a key variable for rehabilitation after committing a transgression.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)951-958
    Number of pages8
    JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013


    • Need for belonging
    • Offender rehabilitation
    • Responsibility
    • Self-forgiveness
    • Transgression


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