To investigate the relation between forgiveness and apology as they relate to cardiovascular reactivity and recovery, 29 men and 50 women were exposed to an interpersonal transgression (i.e., verbal harassment) while performing a serial subtraction task. Participants were categorized into high and low forgiveness groups based on scores on the forgiving personality scale. Following the task, approximately half of the participants received an apology from the experimenter for his/her comments during the task. Although no group differences in cardiovascular reactivity were observed during the serial subtraction task, persons high in forgiveness displayed more rapid diastolic and mean arterial blood pressure recovery than persons low in forgiveness. In response to the apology, participants displayed greater high frequency heart rate variability recovery compared to those who did not receive an apology. A significant apology × sex interaction was observed for diastolic blood pressure and mean arterial blood pressure. Women who received an apology exhibited faster recovery from the transgression than women who did not receive an apology. In contrast, men who received an apology exhibited delayed recovery from the transgression compared to men who did not receive an apology. These results indicate that there are potentially healthful benefits to forgiveness and apology, but the relation is influenced by situation and by sex.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
To determine whether the findings on forgiveness could be attributed to the often reported inverse relation between forgiveness and hostility, analyses for each cardiovascular parameter were repeated replacing forgiveness level with hostility level as measured by a median split on the cook medley hostility questionnaire from the screening packet. No main effects for hostility level were significant, nor were any interaction effects during any period of the experimental session (all Ps > .05). Most notably, diastolic blood pressure and mean arterial blood pressure recovery did not differ between high and low hostility groups.
Allen, M. T., Stoney, C. M., Owens, J. F., & Matthews, K. A. (1993). Hemodynamic adjustment to laboratory stress: The influence of gender and personality. Psychosomatic Medicine, 55, 505–517.
Anderson, J. C., Linden, W., & Habra, M. E. (2006). Influence of apologies and trait hostility on recovery from anger. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 29(4), 347–358.
Bachman, G. F., & Guerrero, K. L. (2006). Forgiveness, apology, and communicative responses to hurtful events. Communication Reports, 19(1), 45–56.
Berntson, G., Bigger, J., Eckberg, D., Grossman, P., Kaufmann, P., Malik, M., et al. (1997). Heart rate variability: Origins, methods, and interpretive caveats. Psychophysiology, 34(6), 623–648.
Berry, J. W., & Worthington, E. L. Jr. (2001). Forgiveness, relationship quality, stress while imagining relationship events, and physical and mental health. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 48(4), 447–455.
Bradburn, N. M. (1969). The structure of well-being. Chicago: Aldine.
Darby, B. W., & Schlenker, B. R. (1982). Children’s reactions to apologies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 742–753.
Ellis, R., Sollers I. ii, J., Edelstein, E., & Thayer, J. (2008). Data transforms for spectral analyses of heart rate variability. Biomedical Sciences Instrumentation, 44392-397.
Enright, R. D., Santos, M. J. D., & Al-Mabuk, R. (1989). The adolescent as forgiver. Journal of Adolescence, 12, 95–110.
Friedberg, J., Suchday, S., & Shelov, D. (2007). The impact of forgiveness on cardiovascular reactivity and recovery. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 65(2), 87–94.
Hernandez, D. H., Larkin, K. T., & Whited, M. C. (2009). Cardiovascular response to interpersonal provocation and mental arithmetic among high and low hostile young adult males. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 34, 27–35.
Kamat, V., Jones, W., & Row, K. (2006). Assessing forgiveness as a dimension of personality. Individual Differences Research, 4(5), 322–330.
Lawler, K. A., Younger, J. W., Piferi, R. L., Billington, E., Jobe, R., Edmondson, K., et al. (2003). A change of heart: Cardiovascular correlates of forgiveness in response to interpersonal conflict. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 26(5), 373–393.
Lawler, K. A., Younger, J. W., Piferi, R. L., Jobe, R. L., Edmondson, K. A., & Jones, W. J. (2005). The unique effects of forgiveness on health: An exploration of pathways. Journal of Behavior Medicine, 28(2), 157–167.
Lawler-Row, K., Karremans, J., Scott, C., Edlis-Matityahou, M., & Edwards, L. (2008). Forgiveness, physiological reactivity and health: The role of anger. International Journal of Psychophysiology: Official Journal of The International Organization of Psychophysiology, 68(1), 51–58.
Lubin, B., Van Whitlock, R., Reddy, D., & Petren, S. (2001). A comparison of the short and long forms of the multiple affect adjective checklist—revised. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 57, 411–416.
Marler, M. R., Jacob, R. G., Lehoszky, J. P., & Shapiro, A. P. (1988). The statistical analysis of treatment effects in 24-h ambulatory blood pressure recordings. Statistics in Medicine, 7, 697–716.
McCullough, M. E., Rachal, K. C., Sandage, S. J., Worthington, E. L., Brown, S. W., & Hight, T. L. (1998). Interpersonal forgiving in close relationships: Theoretical elaboration and measurement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 1586–1603.
McCullough, M. E., & Witvliet, C. V. (2002). The psychology of forgiveness. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 446–458). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
McCullough, M. E., Worthington, E. L., & Rachal, K. C. (1997). Interpersonal forgiving in close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(2), 321–336.
McEwen, B. S., & Stellar, E. (1993). Stress and the individual: Mechanisms leading to disease. Archives of Internal Medicine, 153, 2093–2101.
Miller, T. Q., Smith, T. W., Turner, C. W., Guijarro, M. L., & Hallet, A. J. (1996). Meta-analytic review of research on hostility and physical health. Psychological Bulletin, 119(2), 322–348.
Miller, A., Worthington, E., & McDaniel, M. (2008). Gender and forgiveness: A meta-analytic review and research agenda. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 27(8), 843–876.
Neumann, S., Waldstein, S., Sellers, J., Thayer, J., & Sorkin, J. (2004). Hostility and distraction have differential influences on cardiovascular recovery from anger recall in women. Health Psychology, 23(6), 631–640.
Niskanen, J., Tarvainen, M., Ranta-aho, P., & Karjalainen, P. (2004). Software for advanced HRV analysis. Computer Methods and Programs in Biomedicine, 76(1), 73–81.
Seybold, K. S., Hill, P. C., Neumann, J. K., & Chi, D. S. (2001). Physiological and psychological correlates of forgiveness. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 20(3), 250–259.
Smith, T. W. (1992). Hostility and health: Current status of a psychosomatic hypothesis. Health Psychology, 11(3), 139–150.
Smith, T. W., Glazer, K., Ruiz, J. M., & Gallo, L. C. (2004). Hostility, anger, aggressiveness, and coronary heart disease: An interpersonal perspective on personality, emotion, and health. Journal of Personality, 72(6), 1217–1270.
Spielberger, C. D. (1995). Revised state-trait personality inventory. Palo Alto, CA: Mind Garden.
Takaku, S. (2001). The effects of apology and perspective taking on interpersonal forgiveness: A dissonance-attribution model of interpersonal forgiveness. The Journal of Social Psychology, 141(4), 494–508.
Thoresen, C. E., Harris, A. H., & Luskin, F. (2000). Forgiveness and health: An unanswered question. In M. E. McCullough, K. I. Pargament, & C. E. Thoresen (Eds.), Forgiveness: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 254–280). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Vandervort, D. J. (2006). Hostility and health: Mediating effects of belief systems and coping styles. Current Psychology: Developmental, Learning, Personality, Social, 25(1), 50–66.
Wade, N. G., & Worthington, E. L. (2005). In search of a common core: A content analysis of interventions to promote forgiveness. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 42(2), 160–177.
Waltman, M., Russell, D., Coyle, C., Enright, R., Holter, A., & Swoboda, M. C. (2009). The effects of a forgiveness intervention on patients with coronary artery disease. Psychology & Health, 24(1), 11–27.
Wilson, M., Smith, N., & Holmes, P. (2007). The role of effort in influencing the effect of anxiety on performance: Testing the conflicting predictions of processing efficiency theory and the conscious processing hypothesis. British Journal of Psychology, 98(3), 411–428.
Witvliet, C. O., Ludwig, T. E., & Bauer, D. J. (2002). Please forgive me: Transgressors’ emotions and physiology during imagery of seeking forgiveness and victim responses. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 21(3), 219–233.
Witvliet, C. V., Ludwig, T. E., & Vander Laan, K. L. (2001). Granting forgiveness or harboring grudges: Implications for emotion, physiology, and health. Psychological Science, 12(2), 117–123.
Zechmeister, J. S., Garcia, S., Romero, C., & Vas, S. N. (2004). Don’t apologize unless you mean it: A laboratory investigation of forgiveness and retaliation. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23(4), 532–564.
Zuckerman, M., & Lubin, B. (1985). Manual for the multiple affect adjective checklist. San Diego, CA: Educational and Industrial Testing Service.
Support for this study was provided by West Virginia University’s Eberly College of Arts and Sciences (Doctoral Research Program) and Department of Psychology (Alumni Fund). We thank Jennifer Friedberg for her assistance in conducting some of the statistical analyses herein.
This manuscript is based, in part, on a doctoral dissertation (Matthew C. Whited).
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Whited, M.C., Wheat, A.L. & Larkin, K.T. The influence of forgiveness and apology on cardiovascular reactivity and recovery in response to mental stress. J Behav Med 33, 293–304 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-010-9259-7
- Heart rate variability
- Cardiovascular reactivity
- Cardiovascular recovery