Justice Sensitivity and Forgiveness in Close Interpersonal Relationships: The Mediating Role of Mistrustful, Legitimizing, and Pro-Relationship Cognitions


  • Study 1 was supported by a research grant from the Zurich University Association (Zürcher Universitätsverein; Fonds zur Förderung des Akademischen Nachwuchses, FAN 2006) to Mathias Allemand. Study 2 was conducted as part of a research project of Dmitrij Agroskin at UniBW Munich. The dissertation work of Tanja M. Gerlach was supported by a stipend of the International Max Planck Research School “The Life Course: Evolutionary and Ontogenetic Dynamics” (LIFE). Tanja M. Gerlach is now at Technical University Darmstadt. Jaap J. A. Denissen is now at Tilburg University.
  • Portions of this work were presented at the 47th meeting of the German Psychological Association 2010 in Bremen, Germany, and the LIFE Spring Academy 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
  • We thank Jochen Gebauer, Roos Hutteman, Anne Kristin Reitz, and two anonymous reviewers for insightful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Tanja M. Gerlach, Department of Psychology, Technical University Darmstadt, Alexanderstrasse 10, 64283 Darmstadt, Germany. Email: tanjamgerlach@googlemail.com.


The purpose of the present investigation was to explore and better understand the relationship between justice sensitivity from a victim's perspective (JS-victim) and interpersonal forgiveness. In particular, we aimed to identify the cognitive mechanisms mediating this relationship and test the moderating influence of post-transgression perpetrator behavior. We used data from a questionnaire study employing a Swiss community sample (N = 450) and 2 scenario-based studies employing German online samples, in the context of romantic (N = 242) and friendship relationships (N = 974). We consistently found JS-victim to be negatively related to dispositional (Study 1) and situational forgiveness (Studies 2 and 3). Study 2 demonstrated the relationship between JS-victim and reduced forgiveness to be partly mediated by mistrustful interpretations of the partner's post-transgression behavior. In Study 3, cognitions legitimizing one's own antisocial reactions and a lack of pro-relationship cognitions were identified as further mediators. These variables mediated the negative effect of JS-victim on forgiveness largely independent of whether the friend perpetrator displayed reconciliatory behavior or not. Findings suggest that the cognitive mechanisms mediating victim-sensitive individuals' unforgiveness could barely be neutralized. Future research should investigate their malleability in light of qualitatively different perpetrator behaviors as well as their broader relational implications.