Are Humans Naturally Geared Up to be Forgiving?

New Study Says Yes

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A new Yale study discovered some interesting evidence about social interaction and forgiveness; the study may explain a few things about why we behave the way we do in relationships.

The researchers found that when evaluating a person’s moral character, humans tend to see the positive and adjust any negative opinions about those who exhibit bad behavior.

What this means, in a nutshell, is that medical science has found a way to prove that humans are geared up to be forgiving. According to the study authors, this flexibility in judgement may provide a clue to how we, as humans, forgive—and one reason it’s common to stay in unhealthy relationships.

Forgiveness and Social Connections

The study, conducted by psychologists at Yale, University of Oxford, University College London, and the International School for Advanced Studies, was published recently in the journal Nature Human Behavior.

The study provided one explanation of how psychological factors occur in human beings, which help to reinforce and protect our natural need for long-term socialization.

According to the lead study author, Molly Crockett, a Yale psychologist, “The brain forms social impressions in a way that can enable forgiveness. Because people sometimes behave badly by accident, we need to be able to update bad impressions that turn out to be mistaken. Otherwise, we might end relationships prematurely and miss out on the many benefits of social connection.”

The Study

Over 1500 study participants were selected to observe the choices of 2 unfamiliar individuals—strangers– who were involved in dealing with a moral dilemma. The dilemma was whether to subject another person to painful electric shocks, in exchange for monetary gain. During the mock scenario, made up by the researchers, the “good” person refused to shock anyone, and the “bad” person wanted to do whatever necessary for monetary gain—including inflicting a painful shock on another person.

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Next, the study subjects were asked for their input (as well as how confident they were about their impressions) regarding the moral character of the good stranger and the bad stranger.

The Study Findings

The researchers discovered that the study subjects very quickly formed an impression of the good stranger, and they were overall, very confident about their decisions. But, when it came to the bad stranger, study participants were far less confident about how truly bad he/she really was; the study subjects changed their minds frequently during the observation. For example, when the bad stranger, on occasion, made a single positive choice, the opinions of the study subjects changed right away—giving the bad stranger the benefit of the doubt, until the bad stranger transgressed.

According to lead study author Jennifer Siegel, a doctoral student at Oxford, “The ability to accurately form impressions of others’ character is crucial for the development and maintenance of healthy relationships. We have developed new tools for measuring impression formation, which could help improve our understanding of relational dysfunction.”


An important aspect of living past 100 well is to interact socially on a regular basis. Maintaining long-term relationships, and being able to forgive another person, is one vital aspect of the overall longevity puzzle. It’s comforting to know that our human psyche is naturally designed to help us to do so!

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