Does Empathy Promotion Necessarily Lead to Greater Forgiveness? An Experimental Examination

  • Marilyn A. Cornish
  • Max Guyll
  • Nathaniel G. Wade
  • Daniel G. Lannin
  • Stephanie Madon
  • K. Christine Chason


Empathy toward one’s offender has been identified as an important variable in the forgiveness process, but elements of the empathy—forgiveness connection have yet to be explored. The current study experimentally examined both direct and indirect methods of promoting general empathy (i.e., empathy not connected specifically to the offense) toward a confederate who behaved inconsiderately, and how those methods of general empathy promotion affected forgiveness. Results demonstrated that a direct method of promoting empathy (i.e., being instructed to empathize with the confederate) increased empathy toward the confederate, whereas an indirect method (i.e., the confederate’s display of emotional vulnerability) did not significantly increase empathy. The direct promotion of general empathy facilitated higher levels of self-reported forgiveness, whereas the indirect attempt to promote general empathy resulted in lower self-reported and behavioral forgiveness. The results help to refine our understanding of the empathy—forgiveness connection by questioning the types and forms of empathy that might be useful for promoting forgiveness.


Forgiveness Empathy Emotional vulnerability Helping relationships 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Human and Animal Rights

This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marilyn A. Cornish
    • 1
  • Max Guyll
    • 2
  • Nathaniel G. Wade
    • 2
  • Daniel G. Lannin
    • 3
  • Stephanie Madon
    • 2
  • K. Christine Chason
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Special Education, Rehabilitation, and CounselingAuburn UniversityAuburnUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyIllinois State UniversityNormalUSA

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