Forgive to forget

Tuesday 13 May 2014

New research suggests that forgiveness facilitates forgetting.

A new study published today by psychologists at the University of St Andrews has revealed that motivated forgetting may provide the key to understanding the effect of forgiveness.

The research found that individuals are more effective at suppressing items of information associated with memories for offences they have already forgiven.

The work was carried out by researchers Saima Noreen, Malcolm MacLeod and Raynette Bierman of the University’s School of Psychology and Neuroscience, and involved participants being given a series of hypothetical scenarios containing offences such as infidelity, slander, and theft.  Participants were asked to evaluate the transgression and then decide whether or not they would forgive the transgressor.

In a follow up session, the same participants were presented with a subset of the original scenarios, pairing each scenario with a neutral cue word. Once learning the scenario-cue pairings, participants were presented with some of the cue words, written in either red or green, and 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.

The results revealed that when individuals have forgiven a transgressor, memories related to the offence become more susceptible to subsequent motivated forgetting. When individuals have not forgiven the transgressor, they are less successful in suppressing details related to the unforgiven incidents.

The important findings may offer exciting new potential for therapeutic interventions for individuals suffering from emotional disorders, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Lead author, Dr Noreen, explained:

“The ability to forget such upsetting memories may, in turn, provide an effective coping strategy that ultimately enables people to move on with their lives.

We hope that in time, new fields of enquiry may combine forgetting and forgiveness-based interventions that, in turn, give rise to powerful therapeutic tools that will enable people to “forgive and forget” more effectively. In the meantime, it would seem that while forgiving remains an effortful process, forgetting may actually become easier as a result”.



Notes to Editors

Dr Saima Noreen is available for interview on email [email protected] or telephone 01334 46 3028.

The full paper, published by Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, can be viewed here:

Issued by the University of St Andrews Press Office, contact  01334 462530 or email [email protected]

Contact Victoria Herd, Communications Co-ordinator on 01334 462530 or email [email protected]


Category Research

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