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Accessing the Forgiveness Construct

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During the last few years forgiveness has been seen as an important element in psychological health. The development of forgiveness therapy and its application by psychotherapists to areas like family therapy attests to its growing significance. As a consequence it is important to investigate what people understand by forgiveness and in what circumstances this knowledge structure is retrieved. The present study forms part of ongoing research to access and measure a person's construct of forgiveness. Two studies are compared across three dimensions: semantics, questionnaire instructions and five methods of accessing a forgiveness knowledge structure. In the first study, 49 students from the University of Glasgow were presented with descriptions or videoed scenarios of an act of infidelity. After each presentation they completed the Scobie Forgiveness Scale (SFS, 1996). In the second study, 315 students from the University of Glasgow completed four measures, only the SFS is used in the current study. A comparison of the studies suggests that minor word changes and questionnaire instructions may not exert a significant influence on participants' responses. However, different methods of accessing knowledge structures may have an effect on an individual's construct of forgiveness. The results suggest that different methodologies (video, descriptive scenarios, personal experience, experience of friend/relative or fictional character), affect participants' responses in both the forgiver and the forgiven mode. The findings may have implications for the general accessing of knowledge systems and for the measurement of forgiveness.


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