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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The elusive moral construct : an examination of remorse from a functional perspective Baker, Alysha Taylor


Little is known about the affective, cognitive, or functional underpinnings of remorse. The Dual Process Functional Theory (DPFT) of remorse offers a theoretical framework to build our understanding of remorse and the dual functions that it is hypothesized to serve: a self and social function. The self function refers to the distress experienced by the remorseful transgressor which contributes to the learning and/or reinforcement of social norms, helping ensure the individual does not commit the act again. Further, expressing remorse – most often through the means of an apology – communicates to others that the transgressor understands the moral violation and leads to relational repair (social function). Due to the social function of remorse, transgressors lacking remorse are highly motivated to feign it in hopes of garnering the benefits bestowed upon those perceived to be sincere. Given that it is frequently feigned, it is important to explore the manner in which remorse may be differentially communicated, and how accurately sincerity can be detected. The present dissertation tested the self and social functions proposed by the DPFT, and examined the ways in which genuine versus false remorse is appraised. Overall, findings supported both proposed functions of remorse in line with the DPFT. More specifically, the proposed cognitive (i.e., responsibility) and affective (i.e., distress) aspects of remorse were confirmed; however, given the low-stakes nature of the induction procedures, behavioural cues to remorse could not be identified. Further, the experience of remorse was associated with predicted outcomes that would communicate to a social group that the transgressor had learned from his/her actions. Interestingly, genuine and false remorse was differentiated by observers on various measures, including degree of remorsefulness, degree of sincerity, and likelihood of reoffending. Lastly, observers seemed well-attuned to the components of remorse in offenders’ statements in a sentencing hearing context, perceiving greater remorse when genuine facial expressions of distress and verbal descriptions of empathy for the victim were included.

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