Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Forgiving a wrong may actually make it easier to forget

Date:
May 13, 2014
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
We're often told to 'forgive and forget' the wrongs that we suffer -- it turns out that there may be some scientific truth behind the common saying. A new study shows that the details of a transgression are more susceptible to forgetting when that transgression has been forgiven.

We're often told to "forgive and forget" the wrongs that we suffer -- it turns out that there may be some scientific truth behind the common saying.
Credit: Rawpixel / Fotolia

We're often told to "forgive and forget" the wrongs that we suffer -- it turns out that there may be some scientific truth behind the common saying. A study from researchers at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland shows that the details of a transgression are more susceptible to forgetting when that transgression has been forgiven.

The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"It is well established that learning to forgive others can have positive benefits for an individual's physical and mental health," says Saima Noreen, lead author of the study. "The ability to forget upsetting memories may provide an effective coping strategy that enables people to move on with their lives."

From the perspective of cognitive science, overcoming strong negative emotions toward the person who did us wrong and quashing impulses for retribution or vengeance -- processes that are critical to forgiveness -- may be seen as a function of executive control.

And research suggests that this executive control is also involved in our ability to forget something when we're motivated to forget it.

Noreen decided to examine whether this same cognitive mechanism might form a link between forgiveness and forgetting.

The study, conducted with colleagues Malcolm MacLeod and Raynette Bierman, involved participants reading 40 scenarios that contained hypothetical wrongdoings, including infidelity, slander, and theft. They were asked to evaluate the transgression and say whether, as the victim, they would forgive the misdeed.

About 1 to 2 weeks later, they read a subset of the scenarios again, but this time each scenario was paired with a neutral cue word. After learning the scenario-cue pairings, the participants were presented with some of the cue words, written in either red or green, and were instructed to recall the related scenario when the cue word was green, and to avoid thinking about the scenario when the cue word was red.

This procedure, often used in memory research, essentially trains people to forget specific information or details. The researchers wanted to see whether forgiveness might affect the forgetting process.

For transgressions they had forgiven in the first session, participants showed more forgetting when they had been instructed to forget the scenario in the second session, compared to when they had been given no specific instructions.

In contrast, participants showed no forgetting for scenarios they had not forgiven, even when they had been told to forget them.

Together, these findings suggest that forgiveness may facilitate intentional forgetting by helping individuals to suppress details about the transgressions perpetrated against them.

So, while true forgiveness may be difficult to accomplish, the findings suggest that once the transgression has been forgiven forgetting may become easier as a result.

"This research is only coming into fruition, and it's likely that the relationship between forgiveness and forgetting is bi-directional and far more complex over longer periods of time," Noreen says. "We hope that, in time, new fields of enquiry may combine forgetting- and forgiveness-based interventions that might, in turn, give rise to powerful therapeutic tools that will enable people to "forgive and forget" more effectively."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. S. Noreen, R. N. Bierman, M. D. MacLeod. Forgiving You Is Hard, but Forgetting Seems Easy: Can Forgiveness Facilitate Forgetting? Psychological Science, 2014; DOI: 10.1177/0956797614531602

Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "Forgiving a wrong may actually make it easier to forget." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 May 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140513113609.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2014, May 13). Forgiving a wrong may actually make it easier to forget. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140513113609.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "Forgiving a wrong may actually make it easier to forget." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140513113609.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Pregnancy Spacing Could Have Big Impact On Autism Risks

Pregnancy Spacing Could Have Big Impact On Autism Risks

Newsy (Oct. 1, 2014) A new study says children born less than one year and more than five years after a sibling can have an increased risk for autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stopping School Violence

Stopping School Violence

Ivanhoe (Oct. 1, 2014) A trauma doctor steps out of the hospital and into the classroom to teach kids how to calmly solve conflicts, avoiding a trip to the ER. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Pineal Cysts: Debilitating Pain

Pineal Cysts: Debilitating Pain

Ivanhoe (Oct. 1, 2014) A tiny cyst in the brain that can cause debilitating symptoms like chronic headaches and insomnia, and the doctor who performs the delicate surgery to remove them. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Burning Away Brain Tumors

Burning Away Brain Tumors

Ivanhoe (Oct. 1, 2014) Doctors are 'cooking' brain tumors. Hear how this new laser-heat procedure cuts down on recovery time. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins