Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Everett Jr. Worthington


The purpose of the following studies is to understand the factors that are related to and influence a person’s merciful behavior toward an offender. I define mercy as an act by a person who has the authority to do so that administers or recommends less negative consequence or punishment than is deserved by someone justly deserved. In Study 1, undergraduate students (N = 400) completed the Mercy Meter, a self-report measure of mercy. The Mercy Meter’s scale structure and psychometric properties were examined using Item Response Theory Rasch Analysis. A 14-item, 2-factor scale was established with good psychometric properties. Evidence for the construct validity of the Mercy Meter was also found. In Study 2, I examined the effect of group status and empathy on a participant’s merciful behavior towards an offender who is being punished. Undergraduate students (N = 77) participated in a laboratory experiment in which they watched another student confess to an offense, receive a punishment sentence from a second student, and carry out the prescribed punishment. Participants’ level of mercy was measured by the length of time that they allowed the punishment to continue. Results suggest that the offender’s group status, but not the participant’s empathy towards the offender, had a direct effect on mercy. Implications, next steps for future research, and limitations of the current study are discussed.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

June 2011

Included in

Psychology Commons