Young man seeking forgiveness from his friend.

Forgiveness as an Indicator of Health: Part 3

blog

This blog is the third of a series on forgiveness and its’ health benefits. 

A recent study (April 2010), conducted at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, investigated the relationship between forgiveness and apology based on the heart’s ability to return to normal rate following a laboratory mental exercise.Offer of forgiveness.

A group of men and women were exposed to an interpersonal transgression (i.e., verbal harassment) while performing a series of mathematic subtraction exercises. This means that they were being harassed by at least one of the research team while they tried to do subtraction. During the harassment they showed obvious increases in both blood pressure and heart rate as they did the mathematics task. 

Participants were placed into high and low forgiveness categories. After the math assignment, approximately half of the participants received an apology from the researcher for their harassing comments during the task. Although no group differences in cardiovascular reactivity were observed during the subtraction task, those who accepted the apology showed had their blood pressure return to normal more than those who were not as forgiving.

Participants who received the apology also had their accelerated heart rates return toward normal faster than those who did not receive an apology. Women who received an apology exhibited faster recovery from the harassment than women who did not receive an apology. In contrast, men who received an apology exhibited delayed recovery from the harassment compared to men who did not receive an apology. These results indicate that there are potentially healthful benefits to forgiveness and apology, but the relation is influenced by situation and by sex.

Pretty interesting findings, aren’t they? Even in a laboratory setting, an apology following a transgression demonstrated positive impact on both heart rate and pulse in both men and women, though women displayed a more immediate response.

The Bible’s directive to forgive brings with it specific health benefits on the heart, which have been measured in research.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)

Author

Gary L. Hopkins, MD, DrPH, MPH is currently an associate research professor at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan where he is also associate director of the Institute for Prevention of Addictions, Director of the Center for Prevention Research and Director of the Center for Media Impact Research.