Psychologist finds gender differences in forgiving

Mar 03, 2008

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.

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.

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.”

Source: Case Western Reserve University

Explore further: Oxytocin increases brain's reward response in women viewing crying infants

Related Stories

Dinosaur-times cockroach caught in amber, from Myanmar

18 hours ago

Geologica Carpathica has a paper on a new family of predatory cockroaches. Predatory? The authors, Peter Vrsansky and Günter Bechly, from the Slovak Republic and Germany, respectively, said that "unique adapta ...

Comcast must show what's next after collapse of deal

18 hours ago

Comcast, which reports financial results on Monday, faces some tough questions about what's next for the country's biggest cable company after its dreams of a far-reaching network collapsed with the death of its $45 billion ...

Japan eyeing 26% greenhouse gas cut: officials

18 hours ago

Japan is planning to pledge a 26 percent cut in its greenhouse gas emissions from 2013 levels, ahead of a global summit on climate change this year, officials said Friday.

Recommended for you

Middle-seat kid far from windows but closer to success

4 hours ago

Reports have been coming in about a growing-up study to explain what types of people enjoy success in adult life. The study shows that being a middle-seat child may contribute to success in later years.

Exploring mental health through Kendrick Lamar's lyrics

May 01, 2015

Kendrick Lamar's major-label debut album good kid m.A.A.d. city, released in October 2012, provides rich narratives relating to important mental health themes, including addiction, depression and stress resilience, according ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

bigwheel
5 / 5 (1) Mar 03, 2008
Either a woman or has never been married to one.
nilbud
not rated yet Mar 04, 2008
I looked up this "Julie Juola Exline" she's nothing more than a religious fanatic promulgating these simpering and false notions and attempting to disguise them as research. It is genuinely appalling that this very thinly disguised tripe from someone who's no more than a jumped up student counsellor should be pushed as real rather than the untrue nonsense it is. What's next genetic structure of women resembles glucose and spice DNA - a missive by Julie Juola Exline. Isn't there any quality control on this guff?
superhuman
not rated yet Mar 05, 2008
Just cause your wife is more vengeful than you doesn't mean that on average women are more vengeful then men.
I for one think the study conclusion is right and I'm a male.
nilbud
not rated yet Mar 06, 2008
You're an idiot

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.