Positive social relationships are essential to human life and provide a foundation for cooperation within societies. Inevitably, transgressions can jeopardize a relationship, and victims must decide whether to forgive or retaliate against the transgressor. Forgiveness is thus a crucial ability that enables victims to restore prosocial interactions. Although forgiveness is important for healthy social development, little is known about how it develops in childhood. In addition, it is rarely studied in live interactions, limiting our ability to identify underlying psychological mechanisms. This project will address these gaps by using a game-theoretic task, the Repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma designed for children (C-RPD). The C-RPD allows for controlled experiments in which programmed partners transgress and a behavioral measure of forgiveness can be obtained in real-time. We will study 6 to 11-year olds in order to answer the following Big Questions: 1) Why are some children more likely to forgive than others? We will assess individual differences in inhibitory control and empathy, predicted to increase forgiveness, and reactive aggression, predicted to decrease forgiveness. 2) What motivations lead to forgiveness in children? We will investigate whether children’s forgiveness is driven by an increase in positive motivations (prosociality, mutual benefit) or a decrease in negative motivations (revenge, competitiveness) at different ages. Answering these questions will provide essential information for encouraging forgiveness during childhood. This project will result in at least two empirical papers and one theoretical paper published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. We will also develop a flexible version of the C-RPD that can be used by other researchers to study a range of human virtues. Thus, we anticipate that this project will significantly advance our scientific knowledge of forgiveness and encourage future research.
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