April 2008 - New research led by Case Western Reserve University supported by the John Templeton Foundation and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has found that men find forgiving more difficult than women but this gender gap closes if men develop empathy toward an offender by seeing they may be capable of acting in a similar way themselves.
This gender difference was a consistent finding in a series of seven related studies conducted between 1998 through 2005 with more than 1400 college students. Researchers used hypothetical situations, actual recalled offenses, individual and group situations and surveys to study the ability to forgive. People of both genders tend to be more forgiving when able to identify with the offender. Empathy tends to make the offense seem less serious and easier to understand and results in people feeling more similar to those offending against them. Each of these factors is predictive of more forgiving attitudes. Researchers suggest that women are taught from an early age to be more empathetic and to prioritise relationship building.
Lead author psychologist Julie Juola Exline said:
"The gender difference is not anything that we predicted. We actually got aggravated, because we kept getting it over and over again in our studies. We kept trying to explain it away, but it kept repeating in the experiments."
Researchers also found this ability to identify with the offender and forgive in intergroup conflicts relating this to attitudes to the 9/11 terrorists.
Julie Juola Exline explained:
"When people could envision their own government committing acts similar to those of the terrorists, they were less vengeful. For example, they were less likely to believe that perpetrators should be killed on the spot or given the death penalty, and they were more supportive of negotiations and economic aid."
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