• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Friday 18th April, 2008

Research suggests just how divine is forgiveness

em>Nor in the Critick let the Man be lost!Good-Nature and Good-Sense must ever join;To err is Human; to Forgive, Divine.Forgiveness transforms relationships between parents and their children and between spouses. It can even transform people, according to a team of UK and US researchers.Gregory R. Maio of Cardiff University in the UK and his colleagues at Southampton University UK and Florida State University were interested in the role forgiving and forgiveness play in family relationships. So they recruited 114 families (mostly middle-class, white, British) and asked them a battery of questions about themselves and their relationships with other family members at the beginning and end of a one-year period. What the researchers learned from the participating families suggests the power of forgiveness (which the study defined as “a deliberative process that transforms a vengeful, negative response into a positive one”).For example, families whose members were forgiving of the father’s and/or mother’s errors and transgressions, got along better, became closer and were more expressive over time. Although it’s not clear exactly how forgiveness works, it may have something to do with another of the study's findings: that forgiveness breeds forgiveness. Parents who forgave other family members earlier in the year, felt they received more forgiveness from their children later in the year. Children seemed to follow their parents’ lead – which appeared to result in a kinder, gentler home life for everyone.Perhaps more surprising, the findings also suggest that forgiveness can have a more general effect on personality. Although we usually think of personality as driving behavior, the evidence from this study implies the opposite. Family members who forgave other members earlier in the year were more likely to become more conscientious, emotionally stable, agreeable, and expressive later in the year than those who held grudges.The nature and consequences of forgiveness were not the same for all family relationships. The father-child relationship was somewhat problematic. For example, children tended to be less forgiving of their fathers than their mothers and less likely to perceive their father’s forgiveness than their mother’s. However, the importance of forgiveness in all relationships was clear.Summary of “Unraveling the Role of Forgiveness in Family Relationships” by Gregory R. Maio, Geoff Thomas, Frank D. Fincham, and Katherine B. Carnelley in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, February 2008, Vol. 94, No. 2, pp 307–319.

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