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The Immediate and Delayed Cardiovascular Benefits of Forgiving

Larsen, Britta A., PhD; Darby, Ryan S., PhD; Harris, Christine R., PhD; Nelkin, Dana Kay, PhD; Milam, Per-Erik, MA; Christenfeld, Nicholas J.S., PhD

doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e31825fe96c
Original Article

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.

From the Departments of Psychology (B.A.L., R.S.D., C.R.H., N.J.S.C.) and Philosophy (D.N., P.-E.M.), University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Britta A. Larsen, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr, La Jolla, CA 92093-0109. E-mail: blarsen@ucsd.edu

This research was supported by a University of California, San Diego Interdisciplinary Collaboratories Fellowship awarded to B.A.L., R.S.D., and P.-E.M.

Received for publication September 15, 2011; revision received March 19, 2012.

Copyright © 2012 by American Psychosomatic Society
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