Macquarie University
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Forgiveness in school bullying: applicability and implications for intervention

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posted on 2022-03-28, 01:18 authored by Hayley J. Watson
Forgiveness has been used successfully as a therapeutic intervention across many forms of interpersonal hurt. However, it has not been experimentally applied to a school bullying context. This dissertation begins with a study in which an attitude of forgiveness was experimentally induced through hypothetical scenarios, and this was contrasted with experimentally induced revenge and avoidance in the context of school bullying. Providing youth aged 11 to 15 with advice to forgive a bully resulted in less anger about the event than advice to avoid or take revenge. This finding has significant implications for clinical practice, revealing a novel pathway to effective anger management in bullied youth populations and providing impetus for future studies in this area. A second study extended these findings to a clinical sample using an imaginal exposure intervention. Among young adults aged 17 to 24 who had previously been bullied, both imagined forgiveness and avoidance resulted in decreases in negative affect whereas imagined revenge did not. Positive evaluations of the event also decreased with imagined revenge, but not with imagined forgiveness or avoidance. Finally, imagined forgiveness was more stressful than either imagined avoidance or revenge. These results pointed to the complicated relationship between forgiveness and avoidance and provided an indication of why people often do not choose forgiveness as a response to bullying victimisation. A third study evaluated the impact of imagined forgiveness and revenge in a sample of boys aged 12 to 14 and found that both of these interventions produced positive impacts that did not significantly differ. Combined with the results from Study 2, this somewhat unexpected finding pointed to potential differences in the impact of forgiveness and revenge across different ages and genders. A final study then evaluated conceptualisations of forgiveness across primary school students (aged 11), secondary school students (aged 12 to 15) and young adults (aged 17 to 24) and a definitional model was established. This gave a depth of understanding regarding the differences found in the first three studies, as a wide variety of individual differences in conceptualisations of this construct were revealed. Taken together, these findings advance the field by providing the first experimental evidence for the benefits of forgiveness as a response to youth bullying, and indicating suggestions for its clinical application, including the use of avoidance and internal processing as a part of the pathway.



Bibliography: pages 141-165 Thesis by publication.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Psychology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Psychology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Ronald M. Rapee

Additional Supervisor 1

Natasha Todorov


Copyright Hayley J. Watson 2015. Copyright disclaimer:




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