Vol. 42(1), 77-94
Forgiveness has recently received increased scholarly attention due to its empirically supported enhancement of physical and psychological well-being. Such studies suggest that the ability to forgive results in less frequent symptoms of distress. The authors propose to investigate three aspects of forgiveness and psychological well-being that remain largely unexamined. The authors assert that most research on forgiveness examines the effects of forgiving others. The authors attempt to replicate findings by Toussaint et al. (2001), which suggest that forgiving others exerts a more beneficial effect on psychological distress and life satisfaction than forgiveness by God. Secondly, the authors recognize that forgiveness takes various forms and thus plan to examine the relative effects on psychological distress of unconditional forgiveness and forgiveness contingent on acts of contrition. Lastly, the authors examine the factors contributing to the requirement that transgressors performs acts of contrition and speculate that participants who feel forgiven by God may be more likely to forgive unconditionally.
The data for this study come from a nationwide survey of older whites and African Americans. Identifying information was obtained from the Health Care Finance Administration Medicare Beneficiary Eligibility List. The sample was restricted to white and African American English-speaking household residents who were of at least 66 years of age and living in the continental United States. A total of 1,316 cases were analyzed, consisting of 51% whites and 48% female, with an average age of 74.5 years (SD = 6.4 years).
Prior to this study, Krause (2002) conducted focus groups, in-depth interviews, and cognitive interviews with older whites and African Americans in order to develop self-report items that reflect how such individuals experience religion in daily life. In the present study, three self-report items were used to assess whether participants feel resentful toward others, hold grudges, and are able to forgive. Experience of forgiveness by God was measured with a single self-report item. If participants indicated that they forgave others, they were asked to list any acts of contrition they required transgressors to complete. Life Satisfaction, or a subjective assessment of the overall conditions of life as compared to one's aspirations, was measured by two items from the Life Satisfaction Index A and one item constructed by the authors to assess overall life satisfaction. …