Volition speaks louder than action: Offender atonement, forgivability, and victim valuation in the minds of perceivers

Shoko Watanabe*, Sean Laurent

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


On hearing of others’ offenses, people frequently intervene to encourage offenders to correct their wrongs. However, externally imposed reconciliatory behaviors may not effectively convince outside observers that offenders value victims’ welfare and deserve forgiveness. Four studies examined meta-judgments of victim valuation and offender forgivability when restitution was initiated voluntarily versus externally coerced. The same compensatory actions produced greater perceived valuation/forgivability when atonement was voluntary versus court-ordered (Experiment 1). Across multiple harm/measure types, voluntary (vs. imposed) atonement consistently yielded greater valuation/forgivability, but differences between imposed and no-atonement conditions were not captured using indirect valuation measures (Experiments 2–3). Experiment 3 also showed that voluntary (vs. imposed) atonement positively influenced perceivers’ inferences about their own valuation. In Experiment 4, observers perceived greater valuation/forgivability when restitution was made voluntarily rather than imposed by an intervener or requested by the victim. These studies highlight that beyond their compensatory acts, offenders’ volition to atone influences third-party evaluations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1020-1036
Number of pages17
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number6
Early online date8 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • forgivability
  • valuation
  • volition
  • reconciliation
  • welfare trade-off ratio (WTR)


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