Kathy Denton

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Two studies were conducted to examine the use and effectiveness of excuse-validation and other forms of social support in reducing negative affect and attributions of responsibility associated with real life negative events. Excuse-validation involves a verbal or non-verbal, positive response (e.g., "I agree") to an excuse (e.g., "The exam was unfair"). Conversations about a negative experience held by preadolescent, adolescent, or adult subjects and one of their friends (Study 1) or between adult subjects and a supportive stranger (Study 2) were video-taped and coded for the frequency of several types of supportive behavior. Affect and attribution questionnaires were administered prior to and after these conversations to assess changes following various kinds of social support. The results of the first study on age differences in social support revealed that excuse-validation is more prevalent in conversations between (a) adults and (b) adolescents than in conversations between preadolescents. Excuse-validation was related to a reduction in negative affect in adult subjects, but not in adolescent or preadolescent subjects. Emotionally distracting behaviors (e.g., gossiping) were positively correlated with a reduction in negative affect in preadolescents, and advice-giving was correlated with a reduction in negative affect in adolescents. Contrary to expectation, neither excuse-making or excuse-validation was correlated with a reduction in post-conversation attribution scores. The results of the second, experimental, study demonstrated that excuse-validation from a supportive stranger induced a reduction in negative affect. Further, excuse-validation was found to be a more effective support strategy than emotional support (e.g., empathy) or attentive listening. These findings support the conclusion that excuse-validation is an important form of social support in adulthood. Validation gives publicly-made excuses credibility, makes people feel better, and helps people evade responsibility for their negative experiences.



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