Humans rely on cooperation to survive and thrive. So when our cooperative relationships break down, we must repair them. Key to this repair is forgiveness, which mends and restores relationships. We know much about forgiveness in adults, and recent work shows that the basic capacity to forgive emerges around 5 years of age. Importantly, adults’ forgiveness has boundaries: We are less forgiving of those who brazenly disregard our welfare (e.g., intentionally or repeatedly hurt us). These boundaries are adaptive: If forgiveness repairs cooperation, then it makes sense to withhold it from those who are clearly uncooperative. Yet we know little about the development of these boundaries. This is the first aim of the project. The second is to ask if these boundaries can be stretched. After all, even intentional or repeat transgressors may see the error of their ways and seek to make amends. Forgiveness in such cases can help rebuild potentially valuable relationships. Indeed, when intentional transgressors show deep remorse that conveys their renewed commitment and trustworthiness, adults do offer forgiveness. Can the boundaries of children’s forgiveness stretch similarly?
In 4 studies with 5- and 6-year-old children, we will answer two Big Questions:
1) What are the boundaries of early forgiveness?
Specifically, do children forgive intentional transgressors less than accidental ones, and forgive repeat transgressors less than occasional ones?
2) Can the boundaries of early forgiveness be stretched?
Specifically, do children forgive intentional or repeat transgressors who show deep remorse?
The project's deliverables will be empirical and review articles, conference presentations, and pieces for lay audiences. This project and its novel methods will shed light on the nature and nuance of early forgiveness. Together, it will advance our understanding of the origins of forgiveness and thus of human sociality and cooperation.