Want to forgive? Learn to forget

Natural Health News – Often we are told that “forgive and forget” the evils we suffer – is that there may be some scientific truth behind this common word.

A study by researchers at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland shows that the details of a transgression are more likely to forget when that transgression is forgiven.

The results are published in Psychological Science , a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“It is well established that learning to forgive others may have positive benefits for physical and mental health of an individual,” says Saima Noreen, lead author of the study. “The ability to forget the disturbing memories can provide an effective coping strategy that allows people to move on with their lives.”

From the point of view of cognitive science, overcoming strong negative emotions towards the person who did us wrong and stifle the impulses of revenge or retribution – processes that are critical for forgiveness -. It can be seen as an executive control function

And research suggests that this executive control also participate in our ability to forget something when we are motivated to forget about it.

Noreen decided to examine whether the same cognitive mechanism could form a link between forgiveness and forgetfulness.

The study involved 40 participants read scenarios containing wrongdoing, including infidelity, defamation and theft. They were asked to evaluate the transgression and say whether, as the victim, who forgives the crime.

About one to two weeks later, reading a subset of the stage again, but this time each scenario was paired with a keyword neutral. After learning of the scene pairings reference, participants were presented with some of the key words, written in red or green, and were instructed to remember the related scenario when the word signal was green, and avoid thinking about the stage when the word signal was red.

This procedure, often used in memory research, essentially trains people to forget information or specific details. The researchers wanted to see if forgiveness could affect the process of forgetting.

For the transgressions that were forgiven in the first session, participants showed more forgetfulness when they had been instructed to forget the scene in the second session, compared to when they were given precise instructions.

In contrast, participants showed no forgetting scenarios that had not been forgiven, even when they had been told to forget about them.

Taken together, these findings suggest that forgiveness can facilitate intentional forgetting, helping people to put aside the details about the transgressions committed against them.

So while true forgiveness can be difficult to achieve, the findings suggest that once the transgression is forgiven forgetfulness can become easier as a result.

“This research is just coming to fruition, and it is likely that the relationship between forgiveness and forgetfulness is bidirectional and much more complex for longer periods of time,” says Noreen.

“We hope that, over time, new research fields can be combined forgetting- interventions and based on forgiveness which could, in turn, lead to powerful therapeutic tools that allow people to” forgive and forget “more effectively.”

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