Forgive and forget to ignore painful memories

Researchers from the University of St Andrews have found that forgiveness makes forgetting easier – reinforcing the adage that the two are interconnected.

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In fact, psychologists believe that overcoming strong emotions held against someone, and attempting to quash a memory of something we want to ignore, are both linked to the same mechanisms in the brain.

In the study – which is published in the Psychological Science journal – 40 volunteers were required to read a series of scenarios that detailed wrongdoings. These included acts such as slander, theft and infidelity.

They were then asked to place themselves in the position of the victim, and to say whether they would be minded to forgive the perpetrator.

The volunteers were presented with these scenarios again two weeks later. At a later stage they were then asked to either recall the details of each wrongdoing or try to avoid thinking about them.

It was found that volunteers were more able to suppress the memory of scenarios they had previously forgiven.

They were however able to remember the details of scenarios that they indicated would be more difficult to forgive – even though they had been told to forget them.

Researchers believe this shows how forgiveness can make it easier to intentionally forget unwanted memories.

Dr Saima Noreen of the University of St Andrews, who led the study, said: “It is well established learning to forgive others can have positive benefits for an individual’s physical and mental health.

“The ability to forget upsetting memories may provide an effective coping strategy that enables people to move on with their lives.”

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Written by Tamara Marshall

Written by Tamara Marshall

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