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.
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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.
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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).
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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