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Interpersonal forgiveness in close peer relationships during adolescence: An examination of the role of relational self -worth and transgression history

Molly A Wernli, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


As attachment needs shift from family to peers during adolescence, security demands for loyalty and commitment become primary areas of focus for the adolescent. Strategies for relationship maintenance and repair take on added significance, and forgiveness becomes a potentially more important repair mechanism. While forgiveness is seen as a positive action, it can also have a potentially negative feature if used to counteract apprehension that the relationship will end. Low self-worth is thought to be a motivating factor for forgiveness in this situation. This study examined whether adolescents' self-worth and transgression history were related to forgiveness in the context of peer relationships. Two-hundred 16- to 22-year olds participated in the study by completing questionnaires that assessed relational self-worth, reactions to transgressions, and perceptions of relationship alternatives. The goals of the study were: (a) to examine whether relational self-worth and perceived number of relationship alternatives were related to forgiveness, (b) to examine the role of transgression history in forgiveness, (c) to compare forgiveness responses across same-sex friendships, nonromantic opposite-sex friendships, and romantic relationships, and (d) to compare forgiveness responses between actual and hypothetical transgressions. The results showed that neither relational self-worth nor perceived number of relationship alternatives was associated with forgiveness in peer relationships, as hypothesized. In addition, transgression history was not related to forgiveness. A transgression involving a breach of trust was perceived as less severe/painful in the context of opposite-sex friendships than in same-sex friendships or romantic relationships. Further analyses showed that relational self-worth was positively correlated with perceived number of relationship alternatives for 19- to 22-year old females in the context of opposite-sex friendships only. The data on nonromantic opposite-sex relationships suggest that these friendships differ from same-sex and romantic relationships in matters of forgiveness. The present study provided support for the validity of hypothetical transgressions in forgiveness research. Overall, the data suggest that forgiveness may not be the pervasive relationship repair factor that many assume. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Social|Psychology, Developmental

Recommended Citation

Wernli, Molly A, "Interpersonal forgiveness in close peer relationships during adolescence: An examination of the role of relational self -worth and transgression history" (2006). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3211383.