by Emma Young, British Psychological Society, 5/4/21.
… Now a new study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, led by Saima Noreen at De Montfort University, specifically investigates how different types of forgiveness towards an offender can help people who are intentionally trying to forget an unpleasant incident.
As the name implies, “intentional forgetting” involves actively trying to suppress memories of an unpleasant experience. Recent studies have suggested that this lessens the associated negative emotions. Forgiveness has been more extensively investigated, and there is work finding that forgiving the perpetrator helps(though of course not all victims feel able or willing to forgive, and forgiveness is not an essential component of recovery).
Noreen and her colleagues set out to explore possible interactions between intentional forgetting and “decisional” vs “emotional” forgiveness. Decisional forgiveness is making the decision to forgive the perpetrator, and not to seek revenge — indeed, even to make efforts to maintain a relationship — but while still bearing a grudge. In contrast, emotional forgiveness involves getting rid of negative emotions towards the perpetrator and replacing them with positive ones.
…The team found that participants in the emotional forgiveness group showed greater forgetting of the detail, though not the gist, of the offence than the other groups. These participants also reported feeling more psychological distance from the offence.
The team’s analysis revealed that for these participants, emotional, but not decisional, forgiveness was associated with greater forgetting of the detail of the original transgression (though again not the gist of it). It was also associated with a shift to reporting feeling more forgiveness for the perpetrator.
“Collectively, our findings suggest that the act of emotional forgiveness leads to a transgression becoming more psychologically distant, such that victims will construe the event at a higher and more abstract level,” the team writes. (In other words, retaining the gist, but not all the detail). “This high-level construal, in turn, promotes larger intentional forgetting effects, which, in turn, promote increased emotional forgiveness,” they go on.