2022 Student Research Project | Cultural Differences in Why We Do Not Forgive: Unforgiveness Motives in China and US

Supervisor: Minjoo Joo, Assistant Professor of Psychology

Student Researchers

Annie Zhu is a sophomore at Duke Kunshan University, and is interested in Social Psychology.

Zishuo Wu is a junior at Duke Kunshan University, majoring in Behavioral Science, and is interested in cultural difference of forgiveness.

Chun Hing Wong is a senior at Duke Kunshan University, majoring in Behavioral Science, and is interested in the motives of (un)forgiveness.

About the Project

This research examines cultural similarities and differences in motives behind (un)forgiveness in organizational context and how those motives are related to restorative consequences. In organizational contexts, faced with relational transgressions, individuals are given a choice whether to forgive the transgressor. Explicitly or implicitly, researchers and practitioners recommend eventually forgiving the transgressor because it has been linked to physical, psychological, and relational benefits (Worthington & Wade, 2020). It was especially true for people who forgive for internal reasons (e.g., moral values) compared to for those who forgive for external reasons (e.g., religious or relational reasons). In contrast, choosing not to forgive has been related to adverse outcomes such as worse well-being or relational quality (Fincham et al., 2004). However, studies on motivations behind unforgiveness have largely been missing from the literature. Further, it is unclear whether all motives for unforgiveness, such as emotional unreadiness or reputation concern, lead to similarly adverse consequences for individuals. What is more, the vast majority of forgiveness research has been conducted in Western cultural contexts. However, there are fundamental differences in forgiveness processes between East Asian and Western contexts in which relationship harmony is particularly emphasized (Markus & Kitayama, 1991) and individuals experience the self as being deeply embedded in the web of relationships (Adams, 2005). In the current research, we use online survey to ask Chinese and US participants to write about relational transgressions in workplace that they have experienced and to provide motives for (un)forgiveness. We find that as expected apology is the major reason for Chinese participants to forgive; meanwhile, US participants are more likely to use dignity as a forgiveness motive than Chinese participants. It is surprising that US participants focus more on relationship and practical consequences than Chinese participants.