Forgiveness takes place on an attitudinal continuum from hostility to friendliness: Toward a closer union of forgiveness theory and measurement

Daniel E. Forster, Joseph Billingsley, V. Michelle Russell, Thomas G. McCauley, Adam Smith, Jeni L. Burnette, Yohsuke Ohtsubo, Joanna Schug, Debra Lieberman, Michael E. McCullough

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Researchers commonly conceptualize forgiveness as a rich complex of psychological changes involving attitudes, emotions, and behaviors. Psychometric work with the measures developed to capture this conceptual richness, however, often points to a simpler picture of the psychological dimensions in which forgiveness takes place. In an effort to better unite forgiveness theory and measurement, we evaluate several psychometric models for common measures of forgiveness. In doing so, we study people from the United States and Japan to understand forgiveness in both nonclose and close relationships. In addition, we assess the predictive utility of these models for several behavioral outcomes that traditionally have been linked to forgiveness motives. Finally, we use the methods of item response theory, which place person abilities and item responses on the same metric and, thus, help us draw psychological inferences from the ordering of item difficulties. Our results highlight models based on correlated factors models and bifactor (S-1) models. The bifactor (S-1) model evinced particular utility: Its general factor consistently predicts variation in relevant criterion measures, including 4 different experimental economic games (when played with a transgressor), and also suffuses a second self-report measure of forgiveness. Moreover, the general factor of the bifactor (S-1) model identifies a single psychological dimension that runs from hostility to friendliness while also pointing to other sources of variance that may be conceived of as method factors. Taken together, these results suggest that forgiveness can be usefully conceptualized as prosocial change along a single attitudinal continuum that ranges from hostility to friendliness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)861-880
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Bifactor model
  • Cross-cultural
  • Forgiveness
  • Reconciliation
  • TRIM

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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