Self-Punishment Promotes Forgiveness in the Direct and Indirect Reciprocity Contexts

Ruida Zhu, Xueyi Shen, Honghong Tang, Peixia Ye, Huagen Wang, Xiaoqin Mai, Chao Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Most previous studies regarding self-punishment have focused on the correlation between moral emotion and self-punishment. Only a few studies have attempted to understand self-punishment from the perspective of seeking forgiveness, and no study has yet directly tested whether wrongdoers' self-punishment promotes others to forgive the wrongdoers. In three studies, the participants judged the wrongdoers' self-punishment behaviors following an unfair allocation and reported the extent to which they forgave the wrongdoers. The results demonstrated that self-punishment did promote forgiveness in both the direct (Studies 1 and 2) and indirect reciprocity (Study 3) contexts. Consistent with costly signaling theory, the costlier the self-punishment was, the stronger the effect it had on forgiveness. Moreover, communicative self-punishment had a better effect than silent self-punishment when the cost was relatively high in the direct-reciprocity studies. These findings can guide us regarding how to address a damaged relationship via self-punishment when compensation is not feasible or acceptable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)408-422
Number of pages15
JournalPsychological Reports
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017


  • Adult
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Emotions/physiology
  • Female
  • Forgiveness/physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Morals
  • Punishment/psychology
  • Young Adult

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