Turning Tables: Offenders Feel Like “Victims” When Victims Withhold Forgiveness

Michael Thai, Michael Wenzel, Tyler G. Okimoto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


When offenders apologize to victims for a wrongdoing, they often expect forgiveness in return. Sometimes, however, victims may withhold forgiveness. Across four experimental studies, we find that offenders feel like “victims” when victims respond to their apologies with non-forgiveness. This can be explained by the fact that they interpret non-forgiveness as both a norm violation and a threat to their sense of power. Together, these mechanisms can account for the relationship between non-forgiveness and negative conciliatory sentiments in offenders. These effects of non-forgiveness emerge irrespective of whether the transgression is recalled (Study 1) or imagined (Studies 2-4). They are specific to non-forgiveness rather than a lack of explicit forgiveness (Study 3), and are not qualified by subtle prods for participants to take the victim’s perspective (Study 4). These findings demonstrate a destructive response pattern in offenders that warrants further attention.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Early online date29 Dec 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Dec 2021


  • forgiveness
  • interpersonal transgressions
  • norms
  • power
  • victimhood


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