Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


Forgive Me for I Have Sinned: The Effects of Religious and Secular Confession and Forgiveness on Psychological, Emotional, and Religious Well-Being in College Students

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Kenneth Pargament


Previous research has largely ignored the effects of confessing transgressions and receiving forgiveness and has not examined the differences between confession and forgiveness in religious versus secular contexts. The purposes of this project are: 1) to examine the implications of confessing transgressions and receiving forgiveness for psychological, emotional, and religious outcomes, 2) to examine whether forgiveness influences the outcomes of confession, and 3) to compare the processes of confession and forgiveness in various contexts. 115 undergraduate college students were randomly assigned to one of five conditions: religious confession, secular confession, interpersonal confession, disclosure, and control. Confession was achieved through a writing exercise in which participants described something they had done wrong and felt badly for doing. The various types of forgiveness were presented as recorded guided imagery exercises. Data collection occurred over two weeks for each participant. During the first week, participants engaged in the writing exercise on four consecutive days. During the second week, participants engaged in the same writing exercise and listened to the guided imagery exercise on four consecutive days. Questionnaires were administered after the guided imagery exercise each day. An online follow-up questionnaire was administered four weeks following the end of the second week of data collection. Measures of psychological, religious, and emotional well-being were collected each data of data collection. The hypotheses for this study were based on previous research and theories on confession and forgiveness. I hypothesized that participants in the religious confession condition would experience the greatest benefits and the greatest improvement over time. In addition, I hypothesized that participants in the interpersonal confession condition would experience greater benefits and greater improvement over time than participants in the secular confession condition, followed by participants in the disclosure and control conditions. Generally, the analyses failed to support the hypotheses of the study. These results are attributed to various factors. Despite these results, this study provides important information for future research on confession and forgiveness. Specifically, researchers should conduct qualitative and exploratory correlational studies to achieve a greater understanding of confession and forgiveness that can inform future experimental studies of these constructs.