FORGIVING people who have done you wrong is the key to forgetting upsetting memories and getting on with your life, according to psychologists at a leading Scots university.
A team at St Andrew’s University have discovered that individuals are more effective at suppressing bits of information associated with memories or offences they have already forgiven.
As part of the study published this month, participants were given a series of hypothetical scenarios.
Each different scenario contained a separate offence such as infidelity, slander, or theft. Those taking part were then asked to evaluate the transgression and then decide whether or not they would forgive the perpetrator.
In a follow up session, the same participants were presented with a subset of the original scenarios, pairing each scenario with a neutral cue word.
After learning the scenario-cue pairings, participants were presented with some of the cue words, written in either red or green, and instructed to recall the related scenario when the cue word was green, and to avoid thinking about the scenario when the cue word was red.
The results revealed that when individuals had forgiven a transgressor, memories related to the offence become more susceptible to subsequent motivated forgetting.
When individuals have not forgiven the transgressor, they were less successful in suppressing details related to the unforgiven incidents.
Psychologists Siama Noreen, Malcolm MacLeod and Raynette Bierman of St Andrews University’s school of psychology and neuroscience, say their findings suggest that forgiveness may facilitate intentional forgetting by helping people to suppress details about the transgressions committed against them.
Lead author of the study Dr Noreen, said yesterday: “The ability to forget such upsetting memories may, in turn, provide an effective coping strategy that ultimately enables people to move on with their lives.
“We hope that in time, new fields of enquiry may combine forgetting and forgiveness-based interventions that may, in turn, give rise to powerful therapeutic tools that will enable people to ‘forgive and forget’ more effectively.
“In the meantime, it would seem that while forgiving remains an effortful process, forgetting may actually become easier as a result.”