The immediate and delayed cardiovascular benefits of forgiving

Psychosom Med. 2012 Sep;74(7):745-50. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e31825fe96c. Epub 2012 Jul 20.


Background: The putative health benefits of forgiveness may include long-term buffering against cardiovascular reactivity associated with rumination. Although studies show short-term benefits of adopting a forgiving perspective, it is uncertain whether this perspective protects against repeated future rumination on offenses, which may be necessary for long-term health benefits. Also unclear is whether forgiveness offers unique benefits beyond simple distraction.

Methods: Cardiovascular parameters (systolic blood pressure [SBP], diastolic blood pressure [DBP], and heart rate) were measured while 202 participants thought about a previous offense from an angry or forgiving perspective or were distracted. All participants were then distracted for 5 minutes, after which they freely ruminated on the offense.

Results: Angry rumination initially yielded the greatest increase in blood pressure from baseline (mean [M] [standard deviation {SD}]: SBP = 9.24 [11.16]; M [SD]: DBP = 4.69 [7.48]) compared with forgiveness (M [SD]: SBP = 3.30 [6.48]; M [SD]: DBP = 1.51 [4.94]) and distraction (M [SD]: SBP = 4.81 [6.28]; M [SD]: DBP = 1.75 [3.80]), which did not differ from each other (p > .30). During free rumination, however, those who had previously focused on forgiveness showed less reactivity (M [SD]: SBP = 7.33 [9.61]; M [SD]: DBP = 4.73 [7.33]) than those who had been distracted (M [SD]: SBP = 10.50 [7.77]; M [SD]: DBP = 7.71 [6.83]) and those who previously focused on angry rumination (M [SD]: SBP = 12.04 [11.74]; M [SD]: DBP = 8.64 [12.63]). There were no differences for heart rate.

Conclusions: Forgiveness seems to lower reactivity both during the initial cognitive process and, more importantly, during mental recreations of an offense soon thereafter, potentially offering sustained protection, whereas effects of distraction appear transient.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anger / physiology*
  • Blood Pressure / physiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / psychology
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Forgiveness / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Time Factors