A dual conceptualisation of personal authenticity and its relationship with offender defensiveness and moral repair

Author: Lara King

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 17 May 2024.

King, Lara, 2023 A dual conceptualisation of personal authenticity and its relationship with offender defensiveness and moral repair, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

Terms of Use: This electronic version is (or will be) made publicly available by Flinders University in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. You may use this material for uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material and/or you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact copyright@flinders.edu.au with the details.


The consequences of violating standards of appropriate behaviour at another’s expense (i.e., interpersonal transgressions) can be substantial. In addition to any material damages, committing a transgression draws to question offenders’ moral integrity and social acceptability. Accordingly, offenders may be motivated to defensively downplay, distort, or deny their responsibility to self-protect; however, this is not without potential costs. Offender defensiveness may escalate the conflict, create a barrier to reconciliation and cause further psychological harm to all involved parties. Rather, effective restoration processes require moral repair, through which offenders restore their self-integrity and recommit to the values violated in the offence. Supporting offenders to overcome defensiveness and engage in moral repair is therefore important for both individual and interpersonal outcomes.

This thesis explores authenticity as a novel factor that may be involved in offenders’ processing of their wrongdoings. However, personal authenticity (i.e., the authenticity of people) has been conceptualised in different ways, so insights from this rich but complex literature are difficult to integrate and apply to specific contexts. In response to this challenge, this thesis first presents a theoretical framework that synthesises the literature, and two dimensions of personal authenticity are identified. Present-state authenticity involves feeling connected to and truthfully representing one’s present-state experiences (i.e., thoughts, emotions), and thus, feeling true to one’s present-state self. Self-concept authenticity involves experiential validation of valued aspects of one’s salient self-concept, or true-self concept, and thus, feeling true to conceptual notions of who one is.

These two dimensions of authenticity are then explored within the context of real-life transgressions. Across five studies, using a combination of experimental, cross-sectional, and longitudinal methodologies, the conceptualisation is tested and differentiated relationships with defensiveness and moral repair are explored. Three questions guided this research. Firstly, what is personal authenticity? Secondly, how does personal authenticity relate to offenders’ engagement in defensiveness and moral repair? Finally, if authenticity was found to assist offenders to adaptively process their moral failures, what strategies may support an individual’s capacity to engage in authentic processes to facilitate better outcomes for individual and interpersonal restoration?

Overall, findings suggest initial evidence for the viability and importance of distinguishing the two authenticity dimensions. Challenging notions of authenticity as a wholly positive construct, results suggest that self-concept inauthenticity may have a role in moral self-regulation and may therefore be adaptive following wrongdoing, and present-state authenticity may reflect feelings of self-justification that share associations with defensiveness. Given that authenticity has generally only been considered in terms of its positive functions, this may need to be reassessed. However, authentic motives or goals may have positive implications for how offenders process their wrongdoings and behave moving forward. This work therefore provides new insights into the processing of moral failures and our conceptions of authenticity. In providing a means of integrating the literature, it is hoped that the dual authenticity model may have broader utility within future research.

Keywords: Authenticity, true self, defensiveness, moral repair, interpersonal conflict, offender perspectives, self-forgiveness

Subject: Psychology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2023
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Michael Wenzel