Do women or men forgive more easily? Is there a difference both in generations as well as sexes? Does circumstances or context make a differences. These questions have been the subject of study and debate for years. Two new studies may shed light on some new perspectives.
A study by the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) has carried out the first Spanish study into the emotional differences between the sexes and generations in terms of forgiveness. According to the study, parents forgive more than children, while women are better at forgiving than men.
“This study has great application for teaching values, because it shows us what reasons people have for forgiving men and women, and the popular conception of forgiveness,” says Maite Garaigordobil, co-author of the study and a senior professor at the Psychology Faculty of the UPV.
This study, which has been published in the Revista Latinoamericana de Psicología, is the first to have been carried out in Spain. It shows that parents find it easier to forgive than their children, and that women are better at forgiving than men.
“A decisive factor in the capacity to forgive is empathy, and women have a greater empathetic capacity than males,” says Carmen Maganto, co-author of the study and a tenured professor at the Psychology Faculty of the UPV.
The results, which were measured using a scale to assess the ability to forgive (CAPER), and a scale of forgiveness and facilitating factors (ESPER), show that there are differences in the reasons that encourage forgiveness according to people’s age and sex.
Children believe that “one forgives with time,” while parents point to reasons such as “remorsefulness and forgiving the other person” and “legal justice.”
The authors of this study say that parents who have forgiven most over the course of their lives have an increased capacity to forgive “in all areas.” Parents and children use similar definitions of forgiveness. Not bearing a grudge, reconciliation and understanding-empathy are the terms most used by both groups to define forgiveness.
However, there are greater differences between men and women. Both see “not bearing a grudge” as the best definition of forgiveness, but men place greater importance on this characteristic.
The study, which was carried out with the collaboration of 140 participants (parents and children aged between 45 and 60, and 17 and 25, respectively), highlights two key conditions for a person to be forgiven. One is for them to “show remorse” and the second is for the person who has been offended “not to bear a grudge.”
The experts say the family environment plays a key role in transmitting ethical values. “This result is especially interesting in situations where families are in crisis and no basic education can be expected of them in terms of values. This education is largely transferred to the school,” the researchers explain.
The research “opens up many new questions” for the two investigators, who believe it is “necessary to study the role that forgiveness plays in psychological treatment, especially among victims of sexual abuse, physical and psychological maltreatment and marital infidelity, as well as other situations.”
The above story is adapted from FECYT – Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology
A second study shows that forgiveness is difficult for both sexes, and while men have more difficulty, if they can increase their capacity for empathy, their ability to forgive increases.
Forgiveness can be a powerful means to healing, but it does not come naturally for both sexes. Men have a harder time forgiving than women do, according to Case Western Reserve University psychologist Julie Juola Exline. But that can change if men develop empathy toward an offender by seeing they may also be capable of similar actions. Then the gender gap closes, and men become less vengeful.
In seven forgiveness-related studies Exline conducted between 1998 through 2005 with more than 1,400 college students, gender differences between men and women consistently emerged. When asked to recall offenses they had committed personally, men became less vengeful toward people who had offended them. Women reflecting on personal offenses, and beginning at a lower baseline for vengeance, exhibited no differences in levels of unforgiving. When women had to recall a similar offense in relation to the other’s offense, women felt guilty and tended to magnify the other’s offense.
“The gender difference is not anything that we predicted. We actually got aggravated, because we kept getting it over and over again in our studies,” said Exline. “We kept trying to explain it away, but it kept repeating in the experiments.”
The John Templeton Foundation-supported studies used hypothetical situations, actual recalled offenses, individual and group situations and surveys to study the ability to forgive.
Exline said prior studies have shown that at baseline (without any interventions), men tend to be more vengeful than women, who have been taught from childhood to put themselves “in the shoes of others” and empathize with them.
In Exline’s study, women who recalled similar offenses of their own did not show much difference in their levels of vengeance, in contrast to men. Women, having been taught from an early age to be more empathetic, lean toward relationship building and do not emphasize the vengeful side of justice to the degree that men do.
The researchers found that people of both genders are more forgiving when they see themselves as capable of committing a similar action to the offender’s; it tends to make the offense seem smaller. Seeing capability also increases empathic understanding of the offense and causes people to feel more similar to the offenders. Each of these factors, in turn, predicts more forgiving attitudes.
“Offenses are easier to forgive to the extent that they seem small and understandable and when we see ourselves as similar or close to the offender,” she said.
Exline found this ability to identify with the offender and forgive also happens in intergroup conflicts in a study that she related to forgiveness of the 9/11 terrorists.
“When people could envision their own government committing acts similar to those of the terrorists, they were less vengeful,” she stressed. “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.”
Exline is the lead author on the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology’s article, “Not so Innocent: Does Seeing One’s Own Capability for Wrongdoing Predict Forgiveness?” She collaborated with researchers Roy Baumeister and Anne Zell from Florida State University; Amy Kraft from Arizona State; and Charlotte Witvliet from Hope College.