DOI: 10.1177/01650254241233531 ISSN: 0165-0254

Development of the forgiveness schema among young children and adolescents: A multinational comparison

Germano Vera Cruz, Lonzozou Kpanake, Guadalupe Elizabeth Morales-Martínez, Etienne Mullet
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Social Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Education

Few studies on the development of forgiveness involved young children and adolescents, and very few involved samples from non-western countries. This study focused on the development of willingness to forgive a particular transgression in participants aged 4 to 12 years and from two different cultures: a South African culture (Mozambique) and a Western European culture (France). Overall, 153 pupils from Mozambique and 107 pupils from France were presented with eight vignettes depicting a situation where a young child, intentionally or accidentally, dropped a small radio that they borrowed from another young child. These vignettes were composed by applying an orthogonal Intent × Consequences × Apologies, 2 × 2 × 2, design. Participants expressed what their willingness to forgive would be in each case on a continuous response scale. Through cluster analysis, four main positions were identified. They were labeled: Almost never forgive (11% of participants), Depends mainly on consequences (22%), Depends mainly on intent and apologies (57%), and Almost always forgive (2%). The first two positions were typical of 4–7-year olds, and the third one was typical of 8–12-year olds. No significant differences in cluster composition were found between the Mozambican and French participants. Up to the age of four, most children probably do not have access to the notion of forgiveness. From the age of four to seven, this notion begins to appear, in particular through a gradual taking into account of circumstantial factors other than the severity of consequences of a transgression. This development is quite rapid—probably during the 7-year period, from 0 to 7 years. From the age of eight onwards, a forgiveness schema similar to that observed in adults is operational. This developmental trajectory is probably very general. It seems to depend little on the type of culture in which it develops.

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