The amount of research in the area of forgiveness has recently increased due to the accepted notion that forgiveness has implications for mental health (Beaven, 1951; Emerson, 1964). Forgiveness is a complex construct (Enright and Fitzgibbons, 2000) that involves cognitive (Flanigan, 1992), affective (Malcolm and Greenberg, 2000), behavioural (Gordon et al., 2000), motivational (McCullough et al., 1997), decisional (DiBlasio, 1998), and interpersonal (e.g., Baumeister et al., 1998) aspects. This complex nature of forgiveness has lead to difficulties in researchers agreeing on a single precise definition of forgiveness. Instead focus is placed on what it is and what it is not, such that it is described as “letting go” of one’s anger or resentment (Baurnes, 1996) resulting in more positive feelings towards the transgressor (McCullough, 2000). However this is not simply a result of pardoning, condoning or forgetting (Enright and Coyle, 1998). Despite the agreement on single aspect of forgiveness the overall complexity of the construct continues to be a barrier to finding a consensual definition of forgiveness (Worthington, 1998). Further research into the field of forgiveness in individual differences is needed; better understanding of this concept and its relationships with other factors will highlight its effects on mental health and help to improve treatment.
This discussion shall highlight areas which may be related to forgiveness, including age, gender, trust, stress, resilience, and positive and negative affect, and discuss the existing research in each of these areas. This will be followed by the rationale and aims of for this piece of exploratory research.
Research indicates a difference in a forgiving disposition depending on age and gender. It has been reported that older people tend to be more forgiving (Toussaint et al., 2001; Girrard and Mullet, 1997), and less vengeful (Cota-McKinley, Woody, & Bell, 2001) than younger people. Although researchers generally report no significant gender differences in dispositional forgiveness (Brown, 2003; Maltby & Day, 2004; McCullough, Bellah, Kilpatrick, & Johnson, 2001; Walker & Gorsuch, 2002), there is a tendency for women to report lower dispositional forgiveness than men (Brown & Phillips, 2005; Exline et al., 2004). Maltby et al (2001) found that among men, extraversion was significantly negatively linked with failure to forgive others, and among women, psychoticism, anxiety, and social dysfunction were significantly positively associated with lack of forgiveness of others. The reasons why men and women differ in forgiveness of others but not in forgiveness of self is yet to be explored.. In relation to current literature it is expected that older rather than younger, and women rather than men, will be less forgiving.
Trust has been defined as a “willingness to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations about another’s behaviour” (Rousseau et al, 1998). Although most of the prior research examines trust as a static construct (Glaesr et al, 2000) interest has grown in the area of investigating the association between trust and forgiveness. Although much has been put forward about the importance of trust for forgiveness there is little research to support the association, and the research that exists is contradictory. Baumeister et al (1998) suggested that trust was an important concept in promoting forgiveness. However Macaskill (2007), found that trust was not a positive mediator of forgiveness. She suggested that individuals who are more trusting react more severely to betrayals of trust, which in turn leads them to be less willing to show forgiving behaviours. The inconsistency within this area illustrates that more research is needed to verify the importance of trust in relation to forgiveness, thus the current research will investigate this association.
Stress is the degree to which individuals find their lives particularly unpredictable, uncontrollable, and overloading (Cohen, Kamarck and Mermelstein, 1983). Stress has been shown to have severe health implications (Worthington, 2004). In the short term the hormones released during a stressful situation lead to allostasis (McEwen, 2002), which is characterised by increases in respiration, blood pressure, heart rate, and energy release and by decreases in digestion, growth hormone, and sexual hormones (Worthington et al, 2004). Researchers have begun to investigate the relationship between stress and forgiveness. Un-forgiveness has been conceptualised as a stress reaction (Worthington, 2002). When a person is highly stressed they find it more difficult to forgive and therefore forgiveness behaviour is highly unlikely to result. In contrast, a reduction in stress leads to an increase in state forgiveness (Lawler et al, 2005). Forgiveness can be seen as an emotion-focused coping strategy to reduce stressful response to a misdemeanour (Everett et al, 2003; Berry et al, 2001).
Resilient individuals do not allow difficulties to get in their way and often find meaning in confusing and hurtful situations. Resilient persons are self-confident and understand their own strengths and abilities. They are able to rely on themselves, don’t feel the need to conform and see themselves as unique. Resilient individuals welcome change and new challenges rather than fear them (Wagnild & Young, 1993). It has been found that resilience has a strong relationship to forgiveness (Anderson, 2006). This implies that the ability to forgive means understanding that something good can come out of hurtful events. Consistent with Anderson (2006) is Zechmeister and Romero’s (2002) finding that those who are able to forgive themselves tend to be more detached from the negative consequences of their actions. This is apparent in the personality of a resilient person who is disconnected from the negative consequences of transgressions. Anderson (2006) further suggests resilience is not a static attribute of an individual but a dynamic process that must be understood within the context of each individual’s stress producing experiences. Thus in the present study, stress and resilience are investigated to see if they have a consistent relationship with forgiveness. It was assumed that a person scoring low on stress and high on resilience would be more forgiving.
High positive affect is the tendency to experience positive mood, seek out situations that create good moods, and leave situations that are dissatisfying. High negative affect is the tendency to experience negative moods. Reduction in negative affect indicates better emotional management abilities which usually results in a greater capacity to see other people’s perspectives (Watson, Clark and Tellegen, 1988). This results in a disposition to forgive others for hurtful actions or transgressions (Hodgson and Wertiem (date?)). The findings are consistent with those of Zechmeister and Romero (2002) which suggest that the most important form of empathy for forgiving others is cognitive perspective taking, in which the person who has been hurt is able to take the offender’s viewpoint. It has been found that reduction in negative affect is a pathway along which forgiveness could lead to fewer physical symptoms. Reduction in negative affect is a strong mediator for both state and trait forgiveness (Lawler et al, 2005). As a reduction in negative affect has been associated with ability to forgive others, and reducing the physical symptoms of un-forgiveness, then it is likely that positive affect will increase likelihood of forgiveness.
To summarise, the main issue in the forgiveness literature is the lack of a universal definition, however, it is accepted that it is linked to mental health. Research suggests that age is positively correlated to forgiveness and that women are more forgiving than men. There is limited and inconsistent evidence for trust, but it seems that higher levels may lead to reduced forgiveness of others. Evidence suggests forgiveness will be negatively correlated with stress, and resilient individuals are more likely to be forgiving, but that resilience and stress should be studied in the context of each other. A reduction in negative affect had been associated with increased forgiveness.
As a result, the current study shall explore the relationship between age, gender, trust, resilience, the mental health variables of stress, positive affect and negative affect, and forgiveness of self, others and situations.
There were 100 participants in total, 35 of which were male and 65 of which were female. Age of participants ranged from 18 to 48 years (mean = 21.66, S.D. = 3.42). Participants were undergraduate students from Sheffield Hallam University, and were recruited using an opportunity sample.
Each participant completed the following five questionnaires:
1) Forgiveness was measured using the Forgiveness of Self and Forgiveness of Others subscales of the Heartland Foundation Forgiveness Scale (Snyder & Yamhure, 1998). This consists of 16 items, such as “With time I am understanding of others for the mistakes they’ve made”. Participants rated these items on a Likert scale ranging from 1 to 7, with 1 being “almost always false of me” and 7 being “almost always true of me”. Items 1 to 6 relate to forgiveness of self, items 7 to 12 relate to forgiveness of others and items 13 to 16 relate to forgiveness of situations. Instructions at the top of the scale are ‘In the course of our lives, negative things may occur because of our own actions, the actions of others, or circumstances beyond our control. For some time after these events, we may have negative thoughts or feelings about others, the situation, or ourselves. Think about how you typically respond to such negative events’. Reliability?
2) The Specific Interpersonal Trust Scale was used to measure how much participants were able to trust someone (Johnson-George & Swap, 1982). This acknowledges how trust differs in men and women, and therefore men and women are required to complete separate tests. The male version consists of 21 items, and these load onto three factors; overall trust, emotional trust and reliability. The female consists of 13 items and these load onto just two factors; reliability and emotional trust. The items are statements such as ” I could expect X to tell the truth” and participants are asked to rate these on a Likert scale from 1 to 9, with one being “very strongly disagree” and 9 being “strongly agree”. Instructions consisted of ‘The following statements concern opinions and feelings that you may hold toward another person. With respect to another specific person in whom you have a great deal of trust (designated as X), indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with each statement by writing in the number that best expresses your opinion or feeling according to the key below. Note that there are separate versions of the test for men and women’. Reliability?
3) Resilience was measured using The Resilience Scale (Wagnild & Young, 1993). This consists of 25 statements such as “I usually take things in my stride” and participants are asked to rate these on a Likert scale, with 1 being “disagree” and 7 being “agree”. The sum of these ratings gives a resilience score, with higher scores relating to higher resilience.
4) Positive and negative affect was measured using the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (Watson, Clark & Tellegen, 1988). This includes 20 items, 10 of which relate to positive affect such as “enthusiastic”, and 10 of which relate to negative affect, such as “hostile”. Participants respond on a Likert scale, ranging from 1 which is “very slightly or not at all” to 5, which is “extremely”. A separate score is given for positive and negative affect. Instructions given were ‘This scale consists of a number of words that describe different feelings and emotions. Read each item and then mark the appropriate answer in the space next to that word. Indicate to what extent you feel this way right now, that is, at the present moment’. This has been found to be a valid and reliable measure of forgiveness, as test-retest reliability after one year was found to be 0.63 for the positive affect scale, and 0.60 for the negative affect scale (Watson, Clark & Tellegen, 1988). Internal consistency is high, with the positive affect scale correlation being 0.89 and negative affect being 0.85 (Crawford & Henry, 2004).
5) Stress was measured using the Perceived Stress Scale (Cohen, Kamark & Mermelstein, 1983). There are 10 items on the questionnaire, for example “in the last month, how often have you felt that you were on top of things?” These assess how in control participants felt about their lives, and they were asked to respond to items on a 5 point Likert scale, with 0 being “never” and 4 being “very often”. Once the relevant items have been reversed, the scores are added giving a total score for stress. At the top, instructions stated, ‘The questions in this scale ask you about your feelings and thoughts during the last month. In each case, please indicate with a check how often you felt or thought a certain way’. Reliability?
At the top of the first scale, the participants were also asked to state their age and gender.
Table 1 displays the mean and standard deviations for all scales by sex, and the numbers that completed each scale. Table 1 also displays the Cronbach’s alpha statistics (Cronbach, 1951) that were computed for all scales comprising more than two items. Cronbach’s alpha shows the internal reliability of the scales; these statistics are an assessment of the correlations between each item (per scale), which indicates how well each scale functions psychometrically (Clark-Carter, 2004, p.314).
Table 1: Internal reliability statistics and mean scores by sex for all scales
Forgiveness of Self
Forgiveness of Others
Female Trust – Reliability
Female Trust – Emotional
Female Trust – Total
Male Trust – Reliable
Male Trust – Emotional
Male Trust – General
Male Trust – Total
Unsatisfactory alphas; p<0.01**
Table 1 shows the mean and standard deviations for all scales by sex. Except for the stress scale, there were no significant differences for sex, indicating that men and women score similarly on forgiveness scales, resilience, and positive and negative affect. Females score significantly higher than males on stress (t=-3.20, p=0.003). Previous literature regarding sex differences in forgiveness is inconsistent but generally no sex differences are reported (e.g. Brown, 2003; Maltby & Day, 2004; McCullough, Bellah, Kilpatrick, & Johnson, 2001; Walker & Gorsuch, 2002). The sex differences for trust cannot be analysed because different scales are used for each sex. Given that there were no significant differences between sexes for any of the forgiveness scales, further analyses shall be performed with males and females combined.
A reliability statistic of above 0.7 (ideally, close to 0.9) is generally accepted as satisfactory for item analysis (Kline, 2000; cited in Clark-Carter, 2004). The present findings suggest that, among the present sample, most scales are performing satisfactorily, however, the situational forgiveness subscale is only 66% reliable (Î±=0.66), a value which will not be increased by deleting items, therefore this scale shall not be included in further analyses. The Cronbach’s alpha for the reliability subscale of the trust for females scale is at 0.7 but with the deletion of item 1, this can be increased to 0.85 (see Table 2). The general subscale of trust for males, and the emotional subscales of trust for both males and females all have Cronbach’s alphas of less than 0.7, but by deleting trust scale items from the subscales these will become satisfactory for item analysis. Table 2 shows new reliability statistics for these subscales, and new means and standard deviations.
Table 2: Internal reliability statistics for adapted Trust subscales, with new mean scores
Female Trust – Reliability
Female Trust – Emotional
Male Trust – General (N=35)
1 & 4
Male Trust –
Table 2 shows that the adapted scales have Cronbach’s alphas greater than 0.7 and are now satisfactory for item analysis.
In order to observe the relationships between all the variables, Pearson product moment correlations were computed between all the measures, and forgiveness of self, forgiveness of others and overall forgiveness (see Table 3 for full correlation matrix). Table 3 shows that, although many variables are related to each other, it can be seen that forgiveness of self is significantly positively correlated with the reliableness subscale of trust for women (r=0.27, p=0.03) and men (r=0.37, p=0.04), resilience (r=0.46, p<0.001), and positive affect (r=0.30, p=0.003), and significantly negatively correlated with negative affect (r=-0.34, p=0.001) and stress (r=-0.42, p<0.001). Forgiveness of others is significantly positively correlated with positive affect (r=0.21, p=0.038); Total forgiveness is significantly positively correlated with age (r=0.20, p=0.049), the reliableness (r=0.30, p=0.019) and emotional (r=0.28, p=0.027) subscales of trust for females, total trust for females (r=0.27, p=0.036), resilience (r=0.39, p<0.001), and positive affect (r=0.34, p=0.001), and significantly negatively correlated to negative affect (r=-0.28, p=0.005), and stress (r=-0.42, p<0.001).
BLANK PAGE – REPLACE WITH TABLE 3 (PEARSON MATRIX) WHEN PRINTED.
Multiple regression analyses were carried out in order to identify which of the correlated social cognitive and psychological wellbeing predictor variables account for unique variance in forgiveness of self, forgiveness of others, and total forgiveness.
Tables 4 and 5 display the results of three standard multiple regressions, in which each of the forgiveness scales were entered as criterion variables, and the subscales that were found to correlate in the Pearson matrix (including age, some trust scales, resilience, positive and negative affect, and stress) were used as predictor variables. Included in this table are the unstandardised regression coefficients (B), the standardised regression coefficient (Î²), the semi-partial correlations (sr²), R, R², and adjusted R².
Table 4: Regression analysis for forgiveness of self, forgiveness of others, and total forgiveness using the reliableness subscale of trust for men and women, the emotional subscale of trust for women, total trust for women, resilience, positive and negative affect, stress, and age
Forgiveness of Self
Factor 1- Male Trust – Reliableness
Factor 2- Female Trust – Reliableness
Factor 3- Resilience
Factor 4- Positive Affect
Factor 5- Negative Affect
Factor 6- Stress
r² = 0.36
Adj r² = 0.32
r = 0.60**
Forgiveness of Others
Factor 1- Positive Affect
r² = 0.04
Adj r² = 0.04
r = 0.21*
Factor 1- Age
Factor 2- Female Trust – Reliableness
Factor 3- Female Trust – Emotional
Factor 4- Female Trust – Total
Factor 5- Resilience
Factor 6- Positive Affect
Factor 7- Negative Affect
Factor 8- Stress
r² = 0.33
Adj r² = 0.28
r = 0.58**
For the total sample, the adjusted R² suggests that 32% (unadjusted 36%) of the variance in forgiveness of self can be accounted for by the exploratory variables of the reliableness subscales of male and female trust, resilience, positive affect, negative affect, and stress; 4% (unadjusted 4%) of the variance in forgiveness of others can be accounted for by positive affect; and 28% (unadjusted 33%) of the variance in total forgiveness can be accounted for by reliableness, emotional and total female trust, age, resilience, positive affect, negative affect, and stress.
The regression statistic (R) was significantly different from zero for forgiveness of self (F(6,93) = 8.71, p<0.001), forgiveness of others (F(1,98) = 4.56, p=0.035), and total forgiveness (F(8,91) = 5.71, p<0.001). For forgiveness of self, the reliableness subcategory of male trust, positive affect, and negative affect account for unique variance in prediction of this forgiveness measure. For every one unit increase in the reliableness subcategory of male trust, forgiveness of self increases by 0.17 units (t=2.08, p=0.04); for every one unit increase in positive affect, forgiveness of self increases by 0.23 units (t=2.22, p=0.029); for every one unit increase in negative affect, forgiveness of self decreases by 0.26 units (t=-2.53, p=0.013).
For forgiveness of others, positive affect accounts for unique variance. For every one unit increase in positive affect, forgiveness of others increases by 0.21 units (t=2.14, p=0.035); with all other factors remaining constant.
Lastly, for total forgiveness, the reliableness subcategory of female trust, total female trust, positive affect, and stress account for unique variance. For every one unit increase in the reliableness subcategory of female trust, total forgiveness increases by 0.79 units (t=2.14, p=0.036); for every one unit increase in total female trust, total forgiveness decreases by 1.16 units (t=-2.04, p=0.044); for every one unit increase in positive affect, total forgiveness increases by 0.33 units (t=3.03, p=0.003); and for every one unit increase in stress, total forgiveness decreases by 0.22 (t=-2.10, p=0.039); with all other factors remaining constant.
The analysis showed that males who are more able to rely on others, individuals high in positive affect, and individuals low in negative affect are more likely to forgive themselves. Individuals high in positive affect are more likely to forgive others. Females who are more able to rely on others, and individuals high in positive affect are more likely to forgive overall, however, females who are more trusting overall, and individuals high in stress are less able to forgive overall. No significant predictors for forgiveness of situations were found, and resilience and age did not predict any of the forgiveness variables.
These findings shall now be discussed in detail by age, gender, trust, stress, resilience, and positive and negative affect. The lack of gender difference (except in trust) is consistent with much of the existing literature (e.g. Brown, 2003; Maltby & Day, 2004; McCullough, Bellah, Kilpatrick, & Johnson, 2001; Walker & Gorsuch, 2002), yet the lack of age difference is inconsistent with findings by Toussaint et al (2001) and Girrard and Mullet (1997).
The reported result that females who are more prone to trust others are less like to display forgiving behaviours provides support for Macaskills (2007) suggestion that individuals who are more trusting react more severely to betrayal of trust, which in turn, resulting in them being less likely to display forgiving behaviours. However, it must be noted that Macaskill did not refer to any gender differences within this proposal, whereas the trust scale used in the present research identified different trust scales for males and females suggesting that they differ where trust is concerned. This is highlighted by the present research as there were significant findings for reliableness aspect of both males and females; males who are more likely to rely on others are more likely to forgive themselves, whereas females who are more able to rely on others are more likely to forgive overall. Therefore, suggesting that gender differences are apparent in relation to trust and forgiving behaviours.
In reference to stress, the findings of the present research suggest that individuals who are higher in stress are less likely to forgive in general. This provides further support for Worthington’s (2002) findings that when a person is suffering from high levels of stress they are hostile towards forgiveness, and therefore forgiving behaviours are less likely to result. Therefore the present research along with Worthington (2002) suggests that there is a strong