Personality, Affects, and Forgiving Behavior in Games

by Jui-Chung Allen Li, Yeh-Chen Chen

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This study asks two research questions: who forgives, and how? Prior studies have shown that more agreeable and less neurotic people have a higher tendency to forgive others, but this study argues that these associations may be spurious because these studies measure forgiveness as a disposition using self-reported questionnaires. This study shows how to combine two economic games to construct a behavioral measure of forgiveness. In the first game, the participants are unfairly mistreated; in the second game, it gives the participants an opportunity to either reciprocate the injustice, or to forgive. Based on a sample of 468 students in Grades 5, 7, and 11, the results show that agreeableness, but not neuroticism (nor extraversion, conscientiousness, openness), predicts forgiving behavior in games. While it is widely believed that forgiveness has an emotional component, affects only mediate the justice evaluation of an offer in the first game. Thus, it concludes that whether a participant forgives or not in the second game involves a cognitive decision.

This paper series was made possible by the NIA funded RAND Center for the Study of Aging and the NICHD funded RAND Population Research Center.

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