Forgiving Helps People to Forget Cruel Actions Against Them, Study


A new study by the University of St. Andrews in Scotland has lent support to the age old saying of "forgive and forget."

Researchers found that condoning wrong actions helps forget details of a transgression. People always remember upsetting details if they haven't forgiven a culprit.

"It is well established that learning to forgive others can have a positive effect on an individual's physical and mental health," said Saima Noreen, lead author of the study, in a press release. "The ability to forget upsetting memories might prove to be an effective coping strategy as it'll enable people to move on with their lives."

Psychiatrists relate the act of pardoning - vanquishing negativity and crushing impulses for revenge - to executive function.  This mental control also helps to keep out certain actions from one's mind when the person is inspired to forget it.

For the study, researchers asked volunteers to read 40 imaginary scenarios containing offenses including betrayal, insult and robbery. The participants were asked whether they would excuse each wrongdoing, if they were the victim.

After one to two weeks, the participants read the scenarios again, but this time each crime was followed by a neutral cue word in either red or green. After learning the scenario-cue pairings, the researchers displayed some of the cue words to the participants. They were asked to recollect the related scenario when shown green cue words and refrain from thinking about a scenario when presented with a red cue word. Through this experiment, researchers wanted to determine whether forgiveness and forgetting are co-related.

The researchers found that when participants had condoned a cruel action, they were more likely to forget it when instructed to do the same. On the other hand, those who hadn't pardoned a cruel action, they remembered them even when they had been asked to forget it.

The findings indicate that forgetting a particular incident is possible through forgiveness. It helps people to move on with their lives easily by burying details of sins carried out against them previously.

"This research is only coming into fruition and it is likely the relationship between forgiveness and forgetting is bidirectional and far more complex over longer periods of time. We hope in time that 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," Noreen said.

The findings are published in journal Psychological Science.

Previous studies showed that excusing people for misdeeds helps enhance health.  People who are in control of their anger were less likely to be associated with higher blood pressure.

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