We recently discussed the importance of forgiveness on health. Over the years studies have shown that men tend to be more vengeful than women, presumably because they have been taught from childhood to empathize with others and build relationships. Though there could yet be a biological basis for this difference.
New data from Case Western Reserve University, Florida State University, Arizona State and Hope College published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that forgiveness does not come naturally for both sexes. Psychologist Julie Juola Exline’s research indicates that men have a harder time forgiving than women do. However that can change if men develop empathy toward an offender by seeing they may also be capable of similar actions. That empathy closes the gender gap and men become less vengeful.
The authors conducted seven forgiveness-related studies (1,2,3,4,5,6,7) between 1998 and 2005 that involved more than1,400 college students: Gender differences have been a robust finding.
The studies used hypothetical situations, actual recalled offenses, individual and group situations and surveys to study the ability to forgive. When men were asked to recall offenses they had committed themselves, they became less vengeful toward people who had offended them. Women started at a lower baseline for vengeance, but thinking about their own transgressions had no effect on levels of unforgiving. When women were asked to recall a similar offense in relation to the other's offense, women felt guilty and tended to magnify the other's offense.
The researchers found that people of both genders are more forgiving when they see themselves as capable of committing a similar action; it tends to make the offense seem smaller and increases empathic understanding of the offense. Therefore people similar to the offenders and therefore more forgiving attitudes.
The ability to identify with the offender and forgive also happens in intergroup conflicts. In a study on forgiveness of the 9/11 terrorists Exline comments that,
"When people could envision their own government committing acts similar to those of the terrorists, they were less vengeful. For example, they were less likely to believe that perpetrators should be killed on the spot or given the death penalty, and they were more supportive of negotiations and economic aid."
It is not difficult to see that prosecution and defense attorneys are going to study this data carefully. It will likely come into play during jury selection processes.
And I am going to think about it the next time that I am called upon to serve on a medical school interview board.
“An eye for an eye will only serve to make the whole world blind.”
--Mahatma Gandhi (Indian Nationalist and World Teacher, 1869-1948)
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you.”
--The Bible (Ephesians 4:32)
“Everyone and everything I see will lean toward me and bless me. I will recognize in everyone my dearest friend. What could there be to fear in a world that I have forgiven, that has forgiven me?”
--A Course in Miracles (Book of Spiritual Principles Scribed by Dr. Helen Schucman between 1965 and 1975, and First Published in 1976)