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Gender and Forgiveness: A Meta–Analytic Review and Research Agenda


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A meta-analysis was conducted with 53 articles reporting 70 studies that addressed gender and forgiveness. The mean d was .28 indicating that females are more forgiving than males. Potential methodological moderators were examined: (a) type of sample, (b) target of forgiveness, (c) trait, state, or familial/marital forgiveness, (d) actual versus hypothetical transgressions, (e) measurement modalities (i.e., questionnaire, experiment, or survey), (f) type of forgiveness measure, (g) published or not published, (h) validated measures versus non-validated measures, and (i) culture. No methodological variables moderated the relationship between gender and forgiveness. However, there were larger gender differences on vengeance than any other forgiveness-related measure. Other potential moderators were suggested as possibly influencing the gender difference including functional differences processing forgiveness, differences in dispositional qualities, and situational cues.
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Virginia Commonwealth University
A meta–analysis was conducted with 53 articles reporting 70 studies that ad
dressed gender and forgiveness. The mean
was .28 indicating that females are
more forgiving than males. Potential methodological moderators were examined:
(a) type of sample, (b) target of forgiveness, (c) trait, state, or familial/marital for-
giveness, (d) actual versus hypothetical transgressions, (e) measurement modalities
(i.e., questionnaire, experiment, or survey), (f) type of forgiveness measure, (g) pub-
lished or not published, (h) validated measures versus non–validated measures,
and (i) culture. No methodological variables moderated the relationship between
gender and forgiveness. However, there were larger gender differences on ven-
geance than any other forgiveness–related measure. Other potential moderators
were suggested as possibly influencing the gender difference including functional
differences processing forgiveness, differences in dispositional qualities, and
situational cues.
Forgiveness has become a frequent topic of research in the past 20
years (Worthington, 2005). Substantial literature has accumulated. It
has been reviewed in edited volumes (McCullough, Pargament, &
Thoresen, 2000; Worthington, 2005), original volumes (Enright &
Fitzgibbons, 2000; Worthington, 2006), and review papers (Exline,
Worthington, Hill, & McCullough, 2003; Freedman, Enright, &
Knutson, 2005; Worthington & Scherer, 2004).
Results from research on forgiveness have revealed potential ben
efits of forgiving. These include benefits to physical health, (for re
Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 27, No. 8, 2008, pp. 843–876
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to A. J. Miller and E. L.
Worthington, Jr., 806 W. Franklin, Box 842018, Richmond, VA 23284-2018. E-mail: or
views see Harris & Thoresen, 2005; Worthington, Witvliet, Pietrini,
& Miller, 2007), mental health (for a review see Toussaint & Webb,
2005), and life satisfaction (e.g., Karremans, Van Lange, Ouwerkerk,
& Kluwer, 2003). Although conditions for experiencing such benefits
are nuanced (see critique by Harris & Thoresen, 2005), forgiving ap
pears to have the potential to produce positive effects.
One issue forgiveness research has acknowledged in passing, but
has largely neglected in explicit focus of study, is the relationship be
tween gender and forgiveness. Many people assume women usually
are more forgiving than men. Investigators have often tested for gen
der differences. However, tests are frequently buried in the results,
are not discussed, and are limited to simple comparisons of whether
differences occur (not why they might or might not occur).
Gender differences in forgiveness might be expected for several rea-
sons. First, gender differences may be an artifact of methodological
moderators. For example the way forgiveness is studied, not forgive-
ness itself, may be causing the gender difference. Second,
dispositional qualities may be related to responses that are forgiving
(McCullough, Rachal, Sandage, Worthington, Brown, Hight, 1998).
Third, there may be gender differences in affective traits that affect
responses to situations (Bettencourt & Miller, 1996). Fourth, attach-
ment style may influence tendency to forgive (Bartholomew &
Horowitz, 1991). Fifth, men may be more drawn to Kohlberg’s (1984)
justice–based morality and to responses to transgressions emphasiz
ing fighting, vengeance, or justice. Women may be more drawn to
warmth–based virtues, which are more in line with Gilligan’s (1994)
ethic of care. Sixth, forgiveness may be influenced by individual dif
ferences in coping. Seventh, gender differences in forgiveness may
also be influenced by situational differences. Despite the clear possi
bility that individual differences could strongly influence genders to
respond differently to transgressions, it is likely that such differences
will be manifested by (a) situations that draw attention to individual
differences, (b) those that prime thoughts related to gender issues,
justice, or care, or (c) those that are likely role–conflicted. Eighth, reli
gion may contribute to tendency to forgive. Overall, women are on
average more religious than men (Freese, 2004). Religions tend to
value forgiveness (Rye, 2005).
In this present review, we established theoretical reasons for hy
pothesizing gender differences. Next, we surveyed the literature to
determine the frequency with which gender differences, if tested,
were found to exist, uncovering 53 articles with 70 codable studies
for meta–analysis. Third, we tested for overall gender differences.
Fourth, we attempted to rule out methodological confounds. Fifth, to
the extent we ruled out potential methodological confounds, we
briefly investigated hypothesized, non–methodological reasons for
gender differences in forgiving.
We have three main purposes in writing this article. We compile
findings, which we culled from many studies that report, but do not
highlight, comparisons between men and women. We suggest theo
retical reasons for such differences and attempt to put some of these
to the meta–analytic test. We also encourage research on forgiveness
that directly studies and addresses gender through suggesting a
research agenda.
To provide a theoretical context for understanding the empirical
studies of forgiveness and gender, we briefly review some ap-
proaches that might link gender and forgiveness with lines of re-
search. This involves addressing definitional differences.
Historically, one of the problems in forgiveness research has been
the definition of forgiveness. Worthington (2005) has recently ob
served that there appears to be a de facto consensus about what for
giveness is not and emerging consensus on what forgiveness is. Tra
ditionally, definitions have fallen into two camps: forgiving
involving (a) reduction of negative experiences (e.g., emotions, moti
vations, behavior, cognition; i.e., Ashton, Paunonen, Helmes, & Jack
son, 1998) or (b) both a reduction of negative experience and a result
ing positive experience toward the offender (i.e., Fincham, Beach, &
Davila, 2004). Worthington (2005) observed that when strangers or
people in poor or non–valued relationships offend, the focus is on re
ducing the negative. In valued, continuing relationships, the focus is
on both reducing the negative and then (if possible) increasing the
Forgiveness Theories
Forgiveness has been seen as an interpersonal process or an
intrapersonal process and has been conceptualized from a variety of
perspectives. Interpersonal models that incorporate forgiveness fo
cus on expression of forgiveness to the offender (Baumeister, Exline,
& Sommer, 1998). For instance, interpersonal models that incorpo
rate forgiveness include reconciliation–based models (Sapolsky &
Share, 2004), evolutionary–based models (McCullough, 2001), and
interdependence theory–based models (for a review see Rusbult &
Van Lange, 2003).
Intrapersonal models of forgiveness focus on internal processes of
forgiveness. They treat the interpersonal context and discussions
about transgressions as important, but as not strictly forgiveness. For
instance, intrapersonal models include decision–based models
(DiBlasio, 1998), cognitive models (Gordon, Baucom, & Synder,
2000), process models that emphasize cognition, affect, and behavior
(Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000), emotion–focused models (Malcolm &
Greenberg, 2000), models that emphasize change over time
(McCullough, Fincham, & Tsang, 2003), attributional models (Girard
& Mullet, 1997; Kachadourian, Fincham, & Davila, 2005), and stress
and coping models (Witvliet, Ludwig, Vander, & Kelly, 2001;
Worthington, 2006).
Gender may influence forgiveness in each of the different models
of forgiveness listed above. For example, reconciliation–based for-
giveness models may be affected by gender differences in the way
males and females approach, engage, and respond to reconciliation.
In evolutionary–based models, gender differences could influence
willingness to forgive. For example, Taylor, Klein, Lewis,
Gruenewald, Gurung, & Updegraff (2000) identified fighting and
flight as traditionally recognized ways of coping, which are often
preferred by men. However, most animals are social, and when
threat arises, they may also tend–and–befriend (Taylor et al., 2000),
which is often preferred by women. Attributional–focused forgive
ness models may be affected by gender differences that have been
found in responsibility attributions (Elkins, Phillips, & Konopaske,
2002). Furthermore, different attributional patterns have been found
in husbands and wives, suggesting that social roles are linked to the
way people attribute cause after transgressions (Kachadourian et al.,
2005). As a final example, gender differences in stress and coping can
affect forgiveness. For instance, gender differences have been found
in the ways people experience stressors, appraise stressors as threat
ening or challenging, react to appraisals, and cope (Lazarus, 1999).
To the extent that transgressions are interpersonal stressors, gender
differences are hypothesized along the lines studied in the
stress–and–coping literature.
Interface between Theories of Gender and Forgiveness
Structural–Developmental Theories About Reasoning Concerning
Moral Dilemmas. Reasoning about injustices is important for
whether forgiveness is granted or experienced (Exline et al., 2003) be
cause, to even consider forgiving, a transgression or injustice must
have occurred. Thus, a moral wrong is often perceived. Two ap
proaches to injustices have revolved around gender differences.
Kohlberg (1984) established a cognitive–developmental stage theory
of moral development, which was based on reasoning about justice.
In this model, Kohlberg described stage three (desire to preserve re-
lationships and to live up to the expectations of others) as the modal
stage for females, and stage four (desire for law and order where the
laws have to be upheld to maintain social order) as the modal stage
for males. In response, Gilligan (1994) proposed that females are ori-
ented toward an ethic of care distinguished by the motivation to pre-
serve relationships and to respond to the needs of others. Males, she
theorized, are oriented toward a need to see justice done through the
consideration of fairness and equity.
Jaffee and Hyde (2000) meta–analyzed 113 empirical studies that
purported to test this contention. They found a small, but reliable,
gender difference in moral reasoning (d = .18). Men and women rea
soned differently about transgressions, but Jaffee and Hyde sug
gested that the differences might be less powerful than Gilligan
Based on this line of reasoning, gender differences in forgiveness
may exist because of gender differences in moral reasoning. First,
both Kohlberg and Gilligan theorized that females desire to preserve
relationships more than do males. The desire to maintain relation
ships may encourage females to forgive more instead of to seek jus
tice (through revenge or social mechanisms). Second, both Kohlberg
and Gilligan theorize that men are oriented toward justice–seeking
more than are women. In the event of a transgression, men may seek
societal or formal justice more or pursue individualized attempts to
exact justice, get even, or seek revenge more than women do. Both
the theories of Kohlberg and Gilligan have fueled lay and profes
sional opinions that women are expected to forgive more than are
Forgiveness–Related Concepts That May Influence Gender and Forgive
ness. Several additional variables might affect the relationship be
tween gender and forgiveness. First, societies determine what injus
tices are. The definition of injustice and its relative negative valance
has been shaped by gender politics. These issues include physical
abuse, incest, child abuse, abuses of power by the powerful, free
dom, and equality. Each is important in determining what are trans
gressions, their meaning, and how they should be responded to.
Therefore, betrayals of roles, especially when they involve the abuse
of power are likely particularly offensive to people who embrace
feminist psychology and interpret daily events according to their po-
tential political ramifications. Also, sociological accounts, such as
symbolic interactionism (Reck, 1964) emphasize that individuals in-
terpret transgressions. However, the final interpretation of the
meaning of transgressions is socially negotiated. In relationships,
men and women negotiate different understandings of injustice and
forgiveness. That negotiated understanding will likely vary within
different ongoing micro–sociological structures (e.g., couples,
families, work groups) relative to ad hoc relationships or
Second, religion may impact forgiveness and gender. Within the
United States, religious pluralism and patterns of demography sur
rounding religion influence forgiveness. A Christian majority has
eroded. The presence of Judaism has been constant. The impact of Is
lam, Buddhism, and Hinduism has grown. Religious “nones” and
other religions (e.g., New Age, Wican, etc.) have also grown. Reli
gion’s manifestations are affected by concern over injustice and by
power. Religions reflect different roles of gender. Females have fre
quently been found to be more religious than men (Freese, 2004;
Miller & Hoffman, 1995). This should suggest a gender differences in
forgiveness for several reasons. First, forgiveness is often labeled as a
religious value (McCullough & Worthington, 1999; Rye, 2005). Thus,
because women are more often more religious, they are likely to use
that religion to promote personal forgiveness. Second, religion is not
only about personal spirituality, but is also usually associated with a
communal orientation and pro–marriage and pro–family values. To
gether, these societal influences are likely embodied in the way
males and females respond to transgressions.
Third, culture may affect gender differences in forgiveness. First,
collectivistic forgiveness has been described as being motivated by
an attempt to promote and maintain group harmony (Hook,
Worthington, & Utsey, 2007). Individualistic forgiveness is moti
vated more by pursuit of personal peace. It is possible that women,
who tend to be more relationally oriented, are influenced by or en
gage in collectivistic forgiveness more often than do males in pre
dominantly individualistic cultures. Furthermore, in individualistic
cultures, evaluations of injustice are heightened. Forgive
ness—whether, when, and how to forgive—can be differential de
pending on the degree to which men or women tend to see them-
selves as hurt or offended. Men and women, if differentially attuned
to relationships, might differ in (a) sensitivity to offense, (b) ways
transgressions are labeled, (c) threshold for defining an act as a trans-
gression, (d) interpretation of the importance of the transgression, (e)
emotional responses to transgressions, (f) motivations toward trans-
gressors, (g) strength of arousal of the justice motive, or (h) coping
mechanisms. Additionally, culture can be a possible confound when
looking at gender differences in forgiveness because gender differ-
ences in forgiveness could be due to culture differences in forgive-
ness. Similarly, Gaines, Marelich, Bledsoe, Steers, Henderson, et al.
(1997) cautioned researchers regarding the possibility of gender
moderating the impact of race/ethnicity on cultural value orienta
tions. Sandage and Williamson (2005) described how forgiveness is
similar across many cultures, yet, there are nuanced differences in
the way individuals from different cultures conceptualize and expe
rience forgiveness. For instance, Takaku, Weiner, and Ohbuchi
(2001) conducted an experimental study with Japanese and Ameri
can participants. Although both Japanese and American participants
forgave more after exposure to a hypocrisy–inducing manipulation,
the process by which the hypocrisy induction worked differed.
American participants paid more attention to the perceived control
lability of the offense while Japanese paid more attention to recidi
vism and their relationship to the transgressor. Furthermore, most
Americans viewed forgiveness as violations of justice while most
Japanese viewed transgressions as violations of norms and roles. In
summary, differences in culture and gender differences may be
related. Culture and gender may be possible confounds when
examining one construct and not the other.
Forgiveness has been conceptualized within interpersonal and
intrapersonal perspectives. Regardless of the forgiveness models,
gender has the potential to influence forgiveness. Kohlberg and
Gilligan theories of moral reasoning provide support for women be
ing expected to forgive more than are men. Gender differences in for
giveness are also likely influenced by sociological factors, religion,
and culture.
We reviewed empirical journal articles focusing on forgiveness be-
tween 1983 and January of 2007. The empirical search began in 1983
because the scientific study of forgiveness did not being until the
mid–1980’s (Worthington, 2005). We confined our review to those
that empirically tested gender differences.
First, we systematically examined results sections of 173 empirical
articles in the possession of the second author. Full articles were read
and included if gender was mentioned in any way in relation to for-
giveness. Of the 173 articles, 36 tested forgiveness and gender. Sec-
ond, we searched PsycINFO (Psychological Abstracts) pairing the
key words associated with forgiveness and gender (pairing gender
or sex with forgive, forgiveness, forgiving, and forgivingness). Thus,
any article that mentioned gender in the title or the abstract was in
cluded. Of 66 previously unidentified empirical articles addressing
forgiveness, an additional 27 addressed gender. Third, we searched
the Dissertation Abstracts International database. Thus, any article on
forgiveness (or related key words above) that mentioned gender or
sex in the title or the abstract was included. We found 39 previously
unidentified dissertations discussing forgiveness; 8 addressed gen
der. Fourth, we consulted Social Sciences Citation Index. We searched
for the most cited empirical articles dealing with forgiveness from
1983 to 2007. Thus, any article on forgiveness (or related key words
above) that mentioned gender or sex in the title or theabstract was in
cluded. Of the 25 previously unidentified empirical articles, four ad
dressed gender. Fifth, we then reviewed discussion sections and ref
erence lists of all articles looking for any key forgiveness and gender
words (none additional found). Sixth, we searched the table of con
tents for August 2002 through January 2007 for the top three journals
that contained the most frequent sources of articles on forgiveness
and gender (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, American Jour
nal of Family Therapy, and Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin;
three additional found). Seventh, personal correspondence with
people publishing in the area revealed five additional. Altogether we
found 83 articles studying forgiveness and gender.
We were unable to contact one author to get the full text of his dis
sertation and therefore dropped that dissertation from the review be
cause the abstract did not provide enough information. One article
that addressed gender differences and forgiveness was a meta–anal
ysis of 13 forgiveness intervention studies and was excluded from
our meta–analysis. One article addressed societal and group forgive-
ness regarding the Holocaust and was also excluded because it was
conceptually different than forgiveness of other and self. In addition,
27 articles were not included because the findings were conditional
interactions and could not be converted to d (e.g., responsibility pre-
dicted forgiveness in females while empathy predicted forgiveness
in males). Thus, we analyzed a total of 53 empirical articles in this
present article. Because many articles contained more than one
study, there were a total of 70 studies.
Several studies reported more than one gender finding. When this
occurred we followed two decision rules. First, if two or more gender
findings from the same study were from two validated instruments
measuring the same thing (e.g., forgiveness or vengefulness) then
the mean d was calculated. If the first decision rule did not apply, the
second decision rule was followed. The second decision rule in
volved randomly selecting a single gender finding from each article.
All forgiveness scales were coded in the same direction, with higher
scores indicating more forgiveness. All vengeance scales were coded
in the same direction with high vengeance being reverse coded.
Thus, high scores of vengeance were coded into low scores of
Meta–Analysis Procedure. We conducted a meta–analysis of the
standardized mean differences on forgiveness between males and
females. We conducted the meta–analysis using the Comprehensive
Meta–Analysis (CMA) software (Borenstein, Hedges, Higgins &
Rothstein, 2005) which follows procedures associated with Hedges
and Olkin (1985). No corrections were made for measurement error
in the forgiveness measures. Measurement error causes the observed
mean difference to underestimate their population values. Thus, all
mean standardized differences are downwardly biased estimates of
the mean population differences between the sexes. We used the ran
dom effects implementation of the Hedges and Olkin approach.
Twenty studies that reported no gender differences in forgiveness
did not include statistics necessary to calculate d. Therefore, data was
imputed for 20 studies. The average effect size of all of the studies
that reported no gender difference and included necessary statistics
was d = .10. Therefore, .10 was imputed for all 20 studies that re
ported no gender difference and did not provide statistics. Data was
analyzed both with and without the imputed data. Nine method-
ological moderators were coded in order to determine whether there
was an interaction with gender and forgiveness (see Table 1).
Question 1: Were There Gender Differences in Forgiveness?
In Table 2 we present the results of the meta–analysis of gender dif-
ferences in forgiveness. Column 1 presents the distribution of data
analyzed. First, all available data were analyzed and then the data
were broken down by moderator subgroups. The second column of
the table, identifies the number of independent samples (k) while the
third column identifies the total sample size across studies. Thus,
there are 70 independent samples with a total of 15,731 individuals
contributing data. The fourth column is the standardized mean dif
ference (d) between males and females in forgiveness. A positive d in
dicates that females were more forgiving than males, on average. A
negative d indicates that males were more forgiving than females. A
d expresses the mean difference in standard deviation units. For the
distribution of all 70 effect sizes, the mean d is .281 indicating that fe
males are more forgiving than males by a bit more than a 1/4 of a
standard deviation. The last two columns of Table 2 are the 95% con
fidence interval for the mean d. Thus, the confidence interval for the
mean for all 70 effect sizes ranges from .206 to .356. The lower bound
of the confidence interval suggests just how small the mean in the
population might be. The upper bound of the confidence interval
suggests just how large the mean in the population might be. The
95% confidence interval can be used to judge the statistical signifi
cance (p .05) of the mean differences between moderator sub
groups. Consider two moderator subgroups A and B. When the 95%
confidence intervals for the two subgroup means do not overlap,
there is a statistically significant difference between the means (p
.05 level of significance). We conclude that a significant difference
exists in gender responses to forgiveness.
However, we agree with Hunter and Schmidt (2004) who argued
that reliance of statistical significance tests in meta–analysis is un
wise. Instead, we will focus on the practical (sometimes called “clini
cal”) significance of the difference. We consider a mean difference of
.2 standard deviations to be a difference that is practically and mean
ingfully different. Cohen (1988) offered .2 as the minimum effect size
to be considered a “small” magnitude mean difference. Cohen sug-
gested that .4 was the minimum effect size for a “moderate” magni-
tude difference. To assist readers in interpreting a .2 difference, we
note that a standardized mean difference of .2 is approximately equal
to a point–biserial correlation of .1 between sex and forgiveness.
Thus, overall the gender difference in forgiveness is between small
and moderate according to Cohen’s criteria.
Question 2: Why Are Differences in Forgiveness Found?
One hypothesis is that differences are detected depending on meth
odological choices. We examined nine methodological moderators:
(a) type of sample (i.e., college, community, adolescent/child, mar
ried couples, mixed sample), (b) target of forgiveness (i.e., forgive
ness of romantic partner forgiveness of other, forgiveness of self,
forgiveness reported from interventions, or forgiveness composite
score), (c) type of forgiveness (i.e., trait, state, familial/marital), (d)
actual versus hypothetical transgressions (i.e., transgressions that
actually occurred or transgressions that participants imagined to oc
cur), (e) measurement modality (i.e., questionnaire, survey, or exper
iment), (f) type of forgiveness measure (Transgression Related
Inventory of Motivations; TRIM, Trait Forgiving; TFS, Trait Narra
tive Forgiveness Scale; TNTF, Enright Forgiveness Inventory, Ven
geance Scales, or other forgiveness scales), (g) published versus
TABLE 1. Sample Characteristics, Effect Size Estimates, and Moderator Variable Codes
Trait or
Actual or
Type of
or not
or not Culture
Allan, Allan, et al. (2006) 63 71 134 –0.43 2 2 2 1 2 3 1 1 1
Applegate, Cullan, et al (2000) 373 186 559 1.15 2 2 2 1 3 4 1 2 1
Ashton, Paunonen, et al. (1998) 49 69 118 0.04 1 2 1 2 2 4 1 2 1
Azar & Mullet (2001) 48 48 96 0.02 2 2 2 2 1 4 1 2 2
Azar & Mullet (2002) 120 120 240 0.20 2 2 1 2 4 1 2 2
Azar, Mullet, & Vinsonneau (1999) 24 24 48 0.08 2 2 2 2 1 4 1 1 1
Barros (2002) 387 0.20 1 1 1 1 2 4 1 2 1
Berry, Worthington, Parrott, O’Conner, &
Wade (2001) 92 371 463 –0.06 1 2 1 2 2 2 1 1 1
Brown (2003) Study 1 47 47 94 0.10 1 2 1 1 2 4 1 2 1
Brown (2003) Study 2 21 48 69 0.20 1 2 1 1 2 4 1 1 1
Brown (2003) Study 3 37 32 69 0.26 1 2 1 1 2 5 1 1 1
Brown (2003) Study 4 37 64 101 0.18 1 2 1 1 2 2 1 1 1
Brown (2004) 68 180 248 0.34 1 2 1 1 2 5 1 1 1
Carver (2005) 88 193 281 0.06 5 2 1 1 2 3 2 1 1
Cohen, Malka, Rozin, & Cherfas (2006)
Study 1 40 73 113 0.20 1 2 1 1 1 4 2 2 1
Cohen, Malka, Rozin, & Cherfas (2006)
Study 2 51 50 101 0.20 1 2 1 1 1 4 2 2 1
Cohen, Malka, Rozin, & Cherfas (2006)
Study 3 40 97 137 0.20 1 2 2 1 1 4 2 2 1
Cohen, Rozin, Cherfas, Davidson (unpub
lished) Study 1 105 262 367 0.37 2 2 1 2 1 1 2 1 1
Cohen, Rozin, Cherfas, Davidson (unpub
lished) Study 2 62 120 182 0.16 1 2 1 1 2 4 2 2 1
Cohen, Rozin, Cherfas, Davidson (unpub
lished) Study 3 72 58 130 0.20 1 2 1 2 2 2 1 1 1
Cole, Yali, Magyar 52 134 186 –0.41 5 2 2 1 2 4 2 2 1
DiBlasio & Proctor (1993) 58 70 128 0.18 2 4 2 1 2 4 1 2 1
Enright, Santos, & Al–Mabuk (1989)
Study 1 29 30 59 0.04 5 2 2 2 2 4 1 2 2
Enright, Santos, & Al–Mabuk (1989)
Study 2 30 30 60 0.06 5 2 2 2 2 4 1 2 1
Exline, Baumeister, et al. (2004) Study 1 136 134 270 0.32 1 2 2 1 2 1 9 1 2
Exline, Baumeister, et al. (2004) Study 2 91 72 163 0.28 1 2 1 2 1 4 1 1 1
Exline, Baumeister, et al. (2004) Study 3 83 72 155 0.52 1 2 1 1 2 4 1 2 1
Exline, Yali, Lobel (1999) 60 140 200 0.20 1 2 1 1 2 4 2 2 1
Finkel, Rusbult, Kamashiro & Hannon
(2002) Study 1 22 67 89 0.49 1 2 1 1 1 4 1 2 1
Finkel, Rusbult, Kamashiro & Hannon
(2002) Study 2 50 104 154 –0.56 1 2 2 1 2 4 1 2 2
Finkel, Rusbult, Kamashiro & Hannon
(2002) Study 3 18 46 64 0.20 1 2 1 1 1 4 1 2 1
Girard & Mullet (1997) 114 122 236 0.04 2 2 1 2 1 4 1 2 1
Gordon & Baucom (2003) 107 107 214 0.20 4 1 3 1 2 4 1 1 1
Holbrook, White, & Hutt (1995) 67 56 123 2.67 5 2 1 1 2 5 1 1 1
Huang (1990) 30 30 60 0.20 5 2 1 1 2 4 2 2 2
Kadiangandu, Mullet, & Vinsnneau (2001) 325 470 795 0.20 2 2 1 1 1 4 1 2 2
Karrenmas, Van Lange, et al (2003) 119 119 238 0.47 4 1 2 1 2 4 1 2 1
Krause & Ellison (2003) 1500 0.12 2 2 1 1 3 4 1 2 1
TABLE 1. (continued)
Trait or
Actual or
Type of
or not
or not Culture
Lee & Chard (2003) 17 26 43 0.54 1 2 2 2 1 2 1 2 1
Lim (2000) 620 0.20 4 1 1 1 2 4 1 2 1
Lukasik (2000) 485 0.20 3 2 3 1 1 2 1 1 1
Macaskill, Maltby, & Day (2002) 100 224 324 0.20 1 2 1 1 2 4 1 1 1
Mauger et al (1992) 237 0.43 2 3 1 1 3 4 1 1 1
McCullough, Bellah, Kilparick & Johnson
(2001) Study 1 36 55 91 0.28 1 2 2 1 2 1 1 1 1
McCullough, Fincham, & Tsang (2003)
Study 2 20 69 89 0.20 1 2 2 1 3 1 1 1 2
Neto & Mullet (2004) 102 90 192 0.30 1 2 1 1 2 4 1 2 1
O’Malley & Greenberg (1983) Study 1 60 60 120 0.45 1 2 2 2 1 4 1 2 2
O’Malley & Greenberg (1983) Study 2 32 32 64 0.56 1 2 2 2 1 4 1 2 1
O’Malley & Greenberg (1983) Study 3 72 72 144 –0.35 1 2 2 2 1 4 1 2 1
McCullough, Rachal, Sandage, et al.
(1998) Study 3 114 114 228 0.30 1 1 2 1 2 1 1 1 1
McCullough, Rachal, Sandage, et al.
(1998) Study 4 59 128 187 0.28 1 2 2 1 2 1 1 1 1
Mullet, Barros, et al (2003) 303 471 774 0.20 2 2 1 1 2 4 1 2 1
Mullet, Houdbine, Laumonier, & Girard
(1998) 173 301 474 0.43 2 2 1 2 2 5 1 1 1
Park & Enright (1997) 30 30 60 0.20 5 2 2 1 2 4 1 2 1
Rackley (1993) 240 0.20 4 1 1 1 2 3 2 1 2
Richard, Boivin, & Fratzke (2003) 47 99 146 0.41 1 2 1 1 2 4 2 2
Roby (1997) 236 0.56 5 2 4 1 2 4 1 2 2
Ryan & Kumar (2005) 45 55 100 0.24 2 2 1 2 2 4 1 2 1
Rye, Pargament, Yingling, Shgren, & Ito
(2005) 47 99 146 –0.54 2 2 2 1 1 4 1 1 1
Scobie, Scobie, & Kakauoulis (2002) 183 375 558 0.20 1 1 1 1 2 4 1 1 1
Shackelford, Buss, & Bennett (2002) 128 128 256 0.87 1 1 2 2 2 4 1 1 1
Stuckless & Goranson (1992) Study 1 121 267 388 0.32 1 2 1 1 2 5 1 1 1
Stuckless & Goranson (1992) Study 2 29 122 151 0.72 1 2 1 1 2 5 1 1 1
Tartaro, Luecken, & Gunn (2005) 32 28 56 0.63 1 5 1 1 1 4 1 1 1
Toussaint & Webb (2005) 45 82 127 0.04 2 2 2 1 2 3 1 1 1
Van Loon (1997) 29 3 32 0.20 2 2 1 2 1 4 1 2 2
Vinsonneau & Mullet (2001) Study 2 100 103 203 0.41 3 2 2 2 1 4 1 2 2
Wade & Goldman (2006) 38 147 185 0.52 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1
Worthington, Kurusu, Collins, et al (2000)
Study 1 73 23 96 0.37 1 2 2 1 1 4 1 1 2
Worthington, Kurusu, Collins, et al (2000)
Study 2 58 6 64 1.15 1 2 2 1 1 4 1 2 2
. Type of sample: 1 = college; 2 = community; 3 = adolescent/child; 4 = married couples; 5 = mixed sample. Target of forgiveness: 1 = forgiveness of romantic partner; 2 = forgiveness of other; 3 =
forgiveness of self; 4 = forgiveness reported from interventions; 5 = forgiveness composite. Type of forgiveness: 1 = trait; 2 = state; 3 = familial/marital. Actual versus hypothetical transgressions: 1 =
transgressions that actually occurred; 2 = transgressions that participants imagined to occur. Measurement modality: 1 = questionnaire; 2 = survey; 3 = experiment. Type of forgiveness measure: 1 =
Transgression Related Inventory of Motivations; 2 = Trait Forgiveness Scale and Trait Narrative Forgiveness Scale; 3 = Enright Forgiveness Inventory; 4 = other forgiveness scale; 5 = vengeance scales.
Validated or non–validated forgiveness measures: 1 = validated measure; 2 = non–validated measure. Culture: 1 = U.S.; 2 = non–U.S.
TABLE 2. Meta–Analysis of Standardized Mean Differences (
) in Forgiveness by Gender
Distribution K N
Lower 95%
Upper 95%
All effect sizes 70 15,731 .281 .206 .356
Sample Type
College 38 6,510 .304 .216 .392
Community 18 6,214 .209 .048 .371
Adolescent/Child 2 688 .275 .080 .469
Married Couples 4 1,312 .252 .133 .371
Mixed 8 1,007 .383 –.086 .853
Type of Forgiveness
Romantic Partner 8 2,747 .319 .174 .464
Other 59 12,527 .270 .182 .358
Self 1 237 .430 .167 .692
Intervention Tech
niques 1 164 .181 –.129 .491
Composite 1 56 .629 .065 1.193
Trait or State
Trait 39 10,645 .301 .226 .375
State 28 4,151 .228 .044 .411
Marital/Familial 3 935 .247 .117 .377
Actual or Hypothetical
Actual 51 12,555 .295 .205 .385
Hypothetical 19 3,176 .246 .114 .378
Type of Study
Experiment 23 3,847 .247 .131 .364
Questionnaire 43 9,499 .271 .182 .361
Survey 4 2,385 .482 –.076 1.041
Forgiveness Measure
TRIM 7 1,417 .340 .233 .446
TFS and TNTF 5 1,222 .170 .057 .284
Enright 4 782 .004 –.247 .255
Vengeance 6 1,453 .831 .428 1.235
Other 48 10,857 .244 .154 .334
Publication or Dissertation
Published 59 13,776 .303 .217 .389
Unpublished 11 1,955 .182 .066 .297
Validated or Not
Validated 32 7,004 .332 .218 .446
Non–validated 38 8,727 .238 .136 .339
U.S. 54 10,524 .319 .219 .418
Non–U.S. 16 5, 207 .198 .124 .271
Note. Positive d indicates females are more forgiving than are males.
non–published/dissertations, (h) validated or non–validated
forgiveness measures, and (i) U.S. sample versus non–U.S. sample.
Type of Sample. The college years are often times in which gender
issues are salient. Students are in an intellectual environment that
sensitizes people to egalitarian gender roles. They are also dealing
with intimacy as a major developmental task. Post–college, people
are often more traditional in values and hence more likely to engage
in gender–stereotypic and gender–role–driven behaviors. We might
reasonably hypothesize that gender difference in forgiving might
appear merely because of the population differences. Many studies
in psychology assay college students. Less frequently, researchers
draw from community samples.
Of the 70 studies reviewed, 38 used college samples; 18 commu
nity; 2 adolescent/child; 4 married couples; and 8 mixed samples
(i.e., two or more of the type of samples listed above). Gender differ-
ences (i.e., the 95% confidence interval does not include zero) were
found in all subgroups except forthe mixed sample subgroup. Confi-
dence intervals in each subgroup of the moderator overlapped (see
Table 2). No subgroups within sample type had a mean difference
between one another of .2 or more. Thus, type of sample did not
moderate forgiveness and gender.
Target of Forgiveness. Gender differences in forgiveness may vary
based on whom the victim is potentially forgiving. For instance, per-
haps more gender differences exist in romantic partners because
they may be more likely to enact in stereotypic gender roles. In con
trast, a more general target, forgiveness of others, may cancel out any
gender difference that may be present. In addition, forgiveness of
self is difficult to study and not much research has looked at gender
differences in self–forgiveness. It is possible that the focus on the self
may reduce the gender difference in forgiveness with the activation
of self–focused thinking overriding the activation of gender
stereotypic roles.
Of the 70 studies reviewed, 8 examined forgiveness in romantic
partners, 59 in the general term of forgiveness of other, 1 in forgive
ness of self, 1 in use of intervention techniques, and 1 in a forgiveness
composite score. Gender differences existed in all targets except in
terventions. Confidence intervals in each subgroup of the moderator
did not overlap (see Table 2). However, the two extreme scores were
based on single samples. No other subgroups within target of for
giveness had a mean difference between one another of .2 or more.
Thus, we (conservatively) conclude that type of target of forgiveness
did not moderate forgiveness and gender; however, further research
might yield a moderator effect when self, interventions, and
composites are investigated.
Trait or State Forgiveness. Gender differences in forgiveness may
exist based on whether participants are being asked about trait for
givingness versus state forgiveness. For instance, there may be no
gender difference when asking participants about trait forgivingness
because gender differences may cancel one another out across situa
tions over time. However, if participants are being asked about a spe
cific event, more gender differences may show up. Additionally, ask
ing participants to focus on a specific relationship where gender
roles tend to be present (i.e., marriage, family) may result in more
gender differences than in relationships where gender roles are not
as present.
Of the 70 studies reviewed, 39 examined trait forgivingness, 28 ex-
amined state forgiveness, and 3 examined marital/familial forgive-
ness. Gender differences existed in state, trait, and marital/familial
forgiveness. Confidence intervals in each subgroup of the moderator
overlapped (see Table 2). No subgroups had a mean difference be-
tween one another of .2 or more. Thus, type of forgiveness examined
(i.e., trait, state, marital/familial) did not moderate forgiveness and
Type of Transgression. Gender differences in forgiveness may also
exist based on whether participants are being asked to think about
actual transgressions versus imagined (i.e., hypothetical) transgres
sions. Hypothetical situations may be more likely to elicit gender ste
reotypical responses than would actual transgressions precisely be
cause they were hypothetical. That is, hypothetical transgressions
may be responded to based more on stereotypes or biases that are ac
tivated when thinking about how participants would react. In con
trast, actual transgressions must be responded to on their own mer
its, and it might be expected that gender differences would not be as
salient because actual behaviors may not be as heavily based on
gender stereotypes or biases.
Of the 70 studies reviewed, 51 examined actual transgressions and
19 examined hypothetical transgressions. Gender differences existed
for both subgroups. Confidence intervals in each subgroup of the
moderator overlapped (see Table 2). Subgroups within type of trans
gression differed less than .2. Thus, type of forgiveness examined
(i.e., actual versus hypothetical transgressions) did not moderate
forgiveness and gender.
Measurement Modality. It is possible that different measurement
modalities may be more or less sensitive to detecting gender differ
ences in forgiveness. Questionnaires given to local samples are typi
cally the most frequently used method of assessing forgiveness,
probably because they are often the easiest and least time consuming
type of study to conduct. Questionnaires are often geographically
and demographically restricted. Surveys, which assay more geo
graphically distributed samples often ask only a few straightforward
questions. Both questionnaires and surveys are more likely to be sub
ject to social desirability effects. Experiments manipulate situations
and measure responses. That methodology often gets around social
desirability issues. However, experiments might not be as ecologi-
cally valid. Based on the sensitivity to social desirability, which is
more present in questionnaires and surveys, larger gender differ-
ence may be expected in questionnaires and surveys due to reliance
on gender stereotypes and roles. That is, a participant may be less
likely to go against the gender stereotype if social desirability is high.
For instance, a male who is more forgiving, but thinks it is not
socially desirable for him (as a male) to be forgiving may report that
he is less forgiving than he really is.
Of the 70 studies reviewed, 23 were experiments, 43 were question
naires, and 4 were surveys. We found gender differences for ques
tionnaires and in experiments, but not for surveys. Confidence inter
vals in each subgroup of the moderator did not overlap (see Table 2).
The survey (d = .482) differed from both questionnaire and experi
ment. However, the analysis for surveys had a 95% confidence inter
val that was exceedingly large (over 1.1) and also included zero.
Thus we (conservatively) conclude that measurement modality (i.e.,
experiment, survey, questionnaire) did not moderate forgiveness
and gender. We encourage reconsideration after more surveys have
been conducted.
Type of Forgiveness Measure. It is possible that certain measures of
forgiveness detect gender differences while others do not. For in
stance, a measure may contain items that prime gender stereotypes
or gender roles while another measure may not.
Of the 70 studies reviewed, seven used the Transgression–Related
Interpersonal Motivations Inventory (TRIM; McCullough et al.,
1998), five used either Trait Forgivingness Scale (TFS; Berry,
Worthington, O’Connor, & Wade, 2005) or Trait Narrative Test of
Forgivingness (TNTF; Berry, Worthington, Parrott, O’Connor, &
Wade, 2001), four used Enright Forgiveness Scale (EFS; Subkoviak et
al., 1995), six used vengeance scales, and 48 used other types of for
giveness scales. All vengeance scales were coded such that high ven
geance indicated low scores of forgiveness. Other forgiveness scales
were usually single–item measures and scales that were specifically
created for a study. All measures except the EFS revealed gender dif
ferences. The confidence interval for the subgroup of vengeance
measures did not overlap with three of the four forgiveness measure
confidence intervals (see Table 2). In addition, vengeance had a stan
dardized mean difference of .5 or higher compared to the other four
forgiveness measure subgroups. Thus, type of measure (specifically
vengeance) moderated the relationship between gender and
Publication Bias. Oftentimes studies that do not find differences
systematically do not get published as often as studies that do find
differences. Therefore, it is possible that gender differences may be
detected because studies that show gender differences in forgiveness
are published more often relative to studies that do not detect gender
differences. However, because gender and forgiveness was the main
topic of interest in very few studies that were published, we did not
expect to find a difference between published versus non–published
Of the 70 studies reviewed, 59 were published articles and 11 were
unpublished manuscripts or dissertations. Gender differences were
found in both published and unpublished studies. Confidence inter
vals in each subgroup of the moderator overlapped (see Table 2).
Thus, type of publication (published versus not published/disserta
tion) did not moderate forgiveness and gender.
Validation of measures. Measures that have evidence of validity are
assumed to be more accurate and sensitive in measuring a construct.
Thus, it seems that measures with evidence of validity will be more
likely to detect gender differences if a gender difference exists and less
likelytodetectgenderdifferencesif a gender difference does not exist.
Of the 70 studies reviewed, 32 were validated and 38 measures
were not validated. Gender differences were found in both validated
and non–validated measures. Confidence intervals in each subgroup
of the moderator overlapped (See Table 2). Also, neither subgroup
within validated or not validated measures had a mean difference
between one another of .2 or more. Thus, type of measure (validated
versus not validated) did not moderate forgiveness and gender.
Culture. Gender differences may be more or less prevalent based
on culture. For example, U.S. versus non– U.S. cultures may view
forgiveness differently based on differences in power differentials,
values, and sociohistoric influences. Thus, what may appear to be
gender differences in forgiveness may actually be differences in cul
ture that affect forgiveness.
Of the 70 studies reviewed, 54 were U.S. samples and 16 were non–
U.S. samples. Gender differences were found in both validated and
invalidated measures. Confidence intervals in each subgroup of the
moderator overlapped (see Table 2). Thus, culture (U.S. versus non–
U.S.) did not moderate forgiveness and gender.
Imputed Data Analysis
Because the authors imputed data, it is possible that the data imputa-
tion may have affected our conclusions regarding moderators. As a
sensitivity test of the robustness of the moderator analyses, we
reanalyzed the data, excluding the imputed data (these analyses are
available from the senior author). No conclusions changed as a result
of deleting the imputed data. Thus our moderator conclusions are ro
bust to whether the data were actual or imputed.
A gender difference in forgiveness was found, d = .28 (r = .14). The ef
fect size is small to moderate. However, a small effect size can still
have a significant impact. To provide context, however, consider that
the commonly accepted, almost axiomatic, gender difference show
ing men to be justice oriented and women to be relationship oriented
is only d = .18 (Jaffee & Hyde, 2000). Meyer et al. (2001) compiled 60
correlations between predictors and criterions of common psycho
logical and medical constructs. Effect sizes of the use of aspirin to
help reduce heart attacks is r = .02. The effect size of chemotherapy
and surviving breast cancer is r = .03. Smoking and the consequent
incidence of lung cancer within 25 years is r = .08. The impact of di
vorce on children’s well–being and functioning is r = .09. Antihista
mine use and the reduction of symptoms of running nose and
sneezing, r = .11. The effect of relapse prevention with individuals
abusing substances, r = .14. All of these relationships listed above, al
though they have small effect sizes, are still believed to be influential.
For instance, many individuals are recommended to take aspirin as
one way reduce risk of death by heart attack. Individuals who have a
runny nose or sneezing are told to take antihistamines. Similarly, al
though the effect sizes are small for relapse prevention and sub
stance abuse and with divorce and the effects it has on children, these
two psychological constructs are frequently studied and considered
important areas to intervene psychosocially. Thus, the gender differ
ence in forgiveness, although small to moderate (d = .28; r = .14), may
be impactful. For example, perhaps different types of transgressions
in different contexts are approached differently by men and women
and this may affect their responsiveness to specific techniques used
in forgiveness interventions. Thus, optimal promotion of
forgiveness in interventions may be achieved differently for men
and women.
Nine methodological moderators were examined to determine
whether they influenced gender differences in forgiveness. The only
significant methodological moderator of which we are confident
was the measure of vengeance compared to other forgiveness mea-
sures. Because vengeance was scored to indicate low forgiveness, a
large effect size was found with vengeance measures indicating that
men were much less forgiving than women when responding to ven
geance measures (d = .83) This finding is not unusual. Men are typi
cally found to be more vengeful than women (Brown, 2003, 2004;
Holbrook, White, & Hutt, 1995; Mullet, Houdbine, Laumonier, & Gi
rard, 1998; Stuckless & Goranson, 1992; cf. McCullough, Bellah, Kil
patrick, & Johnson, 2001). Qualitatively this is perhaps the most reli
able, though not completely consistent, finding in the entire review.
When a gender difference in vengeance is found, it typically is in the
direction of males scoring higher on vengeance relative to females.
This finding is also supported in the meta–analytic testing, however
it is based only on 6 studies and 1,453 people. For instance, in two
studies, Stuckless and Goranson (1992) examined revenge in under
graduates. In both studies, males scored higher than females on trait
vengeance. It was hypothesized that this finding may be explained
by socialization. Men are often encouraged to be aggressive and take
justice into their own hands while women are encouraged to work
things out to restore relationship harmony.
However, Kadiangandu, Mullet, and Vinsonneau (2001) showed
that culture can play a role in vengeance–seeking. Participants were
322 people from the Kasai region of the Congo and 474 from central
France. A questionnaire was used to measure revenge. In France,
males scored higher on revenge than did females. In the Congo,
males and females scored the same on revenge. Kadiangandu et al.
(2001) suggested that the Congoleses men and women were more
similar than the French men and women. This study illustrates two
points. First, forgiveness differences probably exist from culture to
culture (for review, see Sandage & Williamson, 2005). Second, some
times gender differences in forgiveness could really be due to culture
differences in forgiveness. Although, men consistently score higher
than women on measures of revenge and vengeance, cultural con-
text must be considered. Even in the United States, not all studies of
vengeance find consistent results of men being more vengeful than
women (McCullough et al., 2001). However, there is strong support
that men usually report more vengeance than women.
Women tend to forgive more than do men. This might be due to
personal qualities such as valuing relationships, personality or
dispositional qualities such as agreeableness and empathy. Almost
certainly, women’s orientation toward an ethic of care plays a role,
but the nature and strength of the role that ethic of care plays are not
well specified.
A variety of moderators related to forgiving were tested for gender
differences. Almost regardless of variable, there were gender differ
ences. That is, although the moderators were not supported largely,
the mean difference by sex was apparent within each moderator sub
group. Perhaps one reason most moderators were not significant is
caused by the way researchers approach studying gender and for
giveness. Researchers have rarely compared men and women di
rectly on more than whether forgiveness is experienced. Some re
searchers have examined men’s experiences and women’s
experiences in the same study. Although such research reveals dif
ferent patterns of behavior and different interrelationships among
the variables, the researchers have not directly compared men and
One possible psychological moderator that may account for the
gender difference in forgiveness is that men and women may per
ceive transgressions differently and respond differently to their per
ceptions. This has not been studied. In most studies, males and fe
males were compared to show that the genders were similar so
samples could be collapsed across gender. Thus, the level of sophisti
cation of measurement of gender differences in forgiveness has not
been adequate. Also, when gender differences in forgiveness were
found, theoretical reasons for those differences were not discussed in
original articles. The only exception was Sani et al. (2007) who stud
ied gender differences in forgiveness using fMRI technology. The
goal of the study was to determine whether there were differences in
brain patterns between males and females engaging in forgiveness
and unforgivenes. Participants imagined several hypothetical of
fenses. Each scenario included a baseline control, a hurtful event,
and an act of either forgiving or grudge–holding. Brain activity in
several different brain structures varied in males and females. Forex-
ample, during pre–hurtful and hurtful conditions, there was more
activation in the precuneus, extrastriate visual regions, DL–PFC, and
posterior cingulate in females relative to males. Additionally, while
imagining forgiving, larger areas in anterior cingulate, STS, and infe-
rior frontal cortex were activated in males than in females. Finally,
while imagining grudge–holding, there was more activation in the
superior temporal cortex, precuneus and posterior cingulate in
males than in females. Sani et al. (2007) concluded that males and fe
males process and react to emotionally hurtful events in functionally
different ways. They suggested that males and females may respond
to transgressions differently.
Another possible psychological moderator is potential
dispositional variables that could be causing the gender difference in
forgiveness. These include agreeableness, neuroticism (von Collani
& Werner, 2005), dispositional empathy (Trobst, Collins, & Embree,
1994), rumination (Thomsen, Mehlsen, Viidik, Sommerlund, &
Zachariae, 2005), and vengefulness, which should be controlled for
when studying forgiveness. These dispositional qualities may be re
lated to responses that are forgiving (McCullough et al., 1998),
grudge–holding (Berry, Worthington, O’Connor, Parrot, & Wade,
2005), and vengeful (McCullough etal., 2001). There may also be gen
der differences in affective traits that affect responses to situations
(Bettencourt & Miller, 1996). In addition, attachment style may influ
ence tendency to forgive. Some studies have found gender differ
ences in attachment style (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991) while
other studies have not found gender differences in attachment style
(Shi, 2003). Fourth, men may be more drawn to Kohlberg’s (1984) jus
tice–based morality and to responses to transgressions emphasizing
fighting, vengeance, or justice. Women may be more drawn to
warmth–based virtues, which are more in line with Gilligan’s (1994)
ethic of care. Forgiveness may also be influenced by individual dif
ferences in coping. For example, support for the tend–and–befriend
model of Taylor et al. (2000) has been found in diverse contexts (Da
vid & Lyons–Ruth, 2005). Given this evidence, women may be more
forgiving because the tendency toward utilizing tend–and–befriend
coping allows more opportunity for instances of forgiveness than
does fight–or–flight coping more often utilized by males. Further,
tend–and–befriend coping emphasizes valuing of relationships,
which may also influence women’s tendency toward forgiving.
Furthermore, women’s more emotional coping style (Matud, 2004)
may prime women to want to forgive more often.
Yet another possible class of reasons for gender differences in for-
giveness involves situational differences. Transgressions can occur
in many contexts within different relationships. Some transgressions
are in stranger dyads such as criminal offenses, medical mistakes, or
accidents. Others occur in close, intimate relationships. Males and fe-
males may respond differently depending on the type of transgres
sion. Despite the clear possibility that individual differences could
strongly influence genders to respond differently to transgressions,
it is likely that such differences will be manifested by (a) situations
that draw attention to individual differences, (b) those that prime
thoughts related to gender issues, justice, or care, or (c) those that are
likely role–conflicted. In an example of role–driven behavior,
Fincham, Paleari, and Regalia (2002) and Paleari, Regalia, and
Fincham (2005) studied married couples. Their results regarding the
importance of empathy for forgiveness found empathy was impor
tant for men but not for women. This is in contrast to studies of sin
gles—most of which support the importance of empathy for women
and men. In addition, situations that have power differentials may
be particularly situationally influenced. For example, transgressions
involving abuses of power such as male to female aggression, sexual
harassment, rape, father–daughter incest, and priest abuses may
draw more attention to individual differences or prime gender
related issues resulting in different responses to the transgression by
males and females.
As another explanation for gender differences, consider religion.
Religion may contribute to tendency to forgive. Overall, women are
on average more religious than men (Freese, 2004). Religions tend to
value forgiveness (Rye, 2005). Thus, because women are dispropor
tionately attuned to nurture within religious communities, and be
cause women also choose to put themselves in religious situations
more often than men do, the interaction of person × situation seems
In conclusion, there is a small–to–moderate, but meaningful differ
ence in gender and forgiveness. This difference does not appear to be
due to methodological causes such as type of study, sample, or type
of forgiveness. Instead, it appears to be consistent difference due to
gender. There are many possible psychological moderators that may
account for or influence the gender difference in forgiveness. We
suggested several including functional differences in the processing
of emotional hurts and forgiveness, differences in dispositional qual-
ities, differences in situations may affect genders differentially, and
gender differences in religion. Now that methodological moderators
have been preliminarily ruled out as accounting for the gender dif-
ference in forgiveness, researchers need to directly assess gender dif-
ferences in forgiveness in order to better determine what affects the
gender difference and whether it is important in teaching, therapy,
and interventions focused on promoting forgiveness and dealing
with unforgiveness. Therefore, we suggest areas that must be
examined in order to better determine the role gender differences
play in forgiveness.
We offer the following as a list of issues in need of clarification by fu
ture research.
Does the threshold where an act is defined as a transgression vary
for females and males? Are there gender differences in forgiveness
based on the severity of transgressions, such as minor offenses ver
sus major offenses?
Are emotional responses to transgressions different for men and
women and does this contribute to different forgiveness processes
in the brain and physiology?
Can gender differences in attachment styles affect forgiveness?
Because there appear to be different processes in the way men and
women forgive, we suggest researchers examine and uncover the
different forgiveness processes between men and women. More
specifically is empathy a key component in the process of forgive
ness for males? Are responsibility attributions a key component in
the process of forgiveness for females?
Do men and women utilize different coping mechanisms that affect
Are gender differences partly a reflection of females having a lower
status in social power?
Do gender differences exist in interventions teaching or promoting
forgiveness and if so what kinds of interventions would work better
for females and males?
Although difficult to study, self–forgiveness needs to be directly ad-
dressed. Are there gender differences present in self–forgiveness?
What predicts more difficulty in self–forgiveness? Do men or
women tend to have more difficulty in forgiving themselves?
Despite the benign neglect by most researchers, differences in for-
giveness (and variables affecting forgiveness) due to gender deserve
more direct empirical attention—not only for understanding for
givenessas a phenomenon but also in aiding effective intervention.
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... Previous research also outlined certain differences in forgiveness between men and women. Studies show that women tend to be more forgiving than men in general (Miller et al., 2008); however, more nuanced gender differences have been found in forgiveness in romantic relationships. In a study of married couples (Miller & Worthington, 2010), men tended to be more forgiving of their female partner than women were of their male partner. ...
... Regarding gender differences, men more often reported that forgiveness was an important part of their relationship than women did. This is interesting as most of the previous research has shown that women are generally more forgiving than men (Miller et al., 2008). There are two possible explanations for this. ...
... In fact, in our study more men considered forgiveness an important part of the relationship than did women and more men said they would forgive their partners unconditionally. This contrasts with most of the previous studies, which show that women are generally more forgiving than men (e.g., Miller et al., 2008). We may, therefore, hypothesize that men are more willing to forgive their wife, but that in other contexts, women are more forgiving. ...
Using a mixed-methods approach, this study investigates forgiveness, the factors of forgiveness, and unforgivable acts, and analyzes relational and gender differences in participants' qualitative answers. Open-ended questions were answered by 649 participants from Slovakia (532 dating, 117 married; 517 women, 132 men). Responses were analyzed qualitatively using the Consensual Qualitative Research-Modified method, then transformed into quantitative data in order to statistically compare the groups. The results showed that dating individuals tended to see forgiveness as working on the relationship, whereas married individuals viewed forgiveness as an emotional process. Married individuals were more likely to report that shared commitments helped them to forgive. Dating partners tended to look at the situational context. Men were more likely to report that forgiveness was key to the relationship. When forgiving their partner, men focused on internal factors, whereas women needed an apology and acts of love. Infidelity was the most common unforgivable transgression. Therapists may benefit from a more nuanced understanding of forgiveness in dating and married individuals.
... In addition, previous research has paid limited attention on how two key sociodemographic characteristics, such as sex and the presence of joint children, may affect the forgiveness to the ex-partner in the context of divorce and separation. Previous evidence suggests differences in forgiveness for men and women (Miller et al., 2008), and given that co-parenting could be a challenge for divorced people, we believe these factors may affect the hypothesized associations between attachment and forgiveness, as well as the mediating role of ERD. ...
... There is evidence that the tendency to forgive varies according to sex, however, the direction of this association remains unclear. Some studies found that women are more forgiving than men (Miller et al., 2008), others reported the opposite trend (Guzmán-González et al., 2014;Sidelinger et al., 2009), and others did not find differences (Visser et al., 2017). Regarding revenge motivations -one of the characteristics of the unforgiveness state-some studies found that men are more inclined to revenge (e.g., Fernández-Capo et al., 2017;Martin et al., 2019). ...
... This has been explained in terms of the greater social legitimation of the expression of aggressive behavior in men according to traditional gender roles. In addition, some studies (Miller et al., 2008;Orathinkal et al., 2008) found that women would be more inclined to benevolence following a transgression. This could be due to higher levels of empathy reported by women (Fernández-Capo et al., 2017) and because, according to gender roles, women would be more inclined to preserve relationships. ...
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This study examined emotion regulation difficulties (i.e., nonacceptance, daily interference, lack of awareness, lack of control, and lack of clarity) as possible mediators of the association between adult attachment and forgiveness in the context of divorce/separation, and the moderating role of sex and joint children. A sample of 1,185 participants completed measures of attachment, emotion regulation difficulties and forgiveness. Results revealed that in the whole sample attachment anxiety was only directly whereas attachment avoidance was indirectly associated with the degree of forgiveness to the ex-partner through lack of awareness. However, multigroup analysis showed that patterns observed in the whole sample are different for men and women having children or not with the ex-partner. The findings of this research show the importance of attachment and emotion regulation difficulties to understand the process of dealing with resentment and hostility towards an ex-partner in the context of divorce/ separation and demonstrate how sex and parenting differences modulate these relations. Among other aspects, the model had a greater explanatory power in people without joint children. In sum. these findings and their implications are discussed and the importance of considering moderating variables when examining forgiveness and other indicators of adjustment to divorce/separation is highlighted.
... And the research shows this reason may be due to the prize to relationship, personality , empathy and other some differences. (Miller, Worthington, McDaniel, 2008) When we compare the mean of subscale scores for nationalities, we find that only two significant differences between participants according to their nationalities. ...
... Five covariates (gender, age, religion, marital status, and relationship duration) were also entered in each model to test if they would yield different effects in each path. These demographic variables were included because empirical evidence have been found on the relationship between these variables and forgiveness level (Davis et al., 2013;Ghaemmaghami et al., 2011;Ho et al., 2020;Miller et al., 2008;Orathinkal et al., 2008) or relationship quality (Kurdek, 1995;Moore et al., 2001). ...
Full-text available
Forgiveness plays an important role in maintaining healthy relationships. However, scant empirical literature is available that investigates the associations between self-regulation, forgiveness and relationship outcomes. In the current study, we examined the possible mediating role of forgiveness in the linkage between self-control and relationship outcomes, employing both cross-sectional (Study 1; n = 205) and longitudinal (Study 2; n = 600) designs. Participants in heterosexual romantic relationships completed online survey(s) assessing their levels of self-control, forgiveness, and the quality of their relationship. Results provide support for the self-regulatory model of forgiveness, in which higher level of self-control is associated with higher level of forgiveness, which in turn, are associated with better relationship outcomes (i.e., satisfaction, commitment, and closeness) in Study 1. Results also indicated that the self-regulatory model of forgiveness was stable over four weeks in Study 2. The present study advances our theoretical understanding of the mechanisms underlying the association between self-control and relationship outcomes.
... Many of them are physiological, cognitive, lifestyle and spiritual in nature, and include cultivating positive emotions, gratitude, having cognitive flexibility, being altruistic, having social support, and utilizing faith, religion or spirituality (Tusaie, 2004). Among these resilience factors, forgiveness has been widely studied with robust evidence of its beneficial impact on health and wellbeing (Miller & Worthington, 2008) (Reinert, Campbell, Szanton, & Lee, 2016) (Toussaint & Worthington, 2017). ...
Full-text available
Forgiveness is a key aspect of healing after abuse; however, it cannot be forced or rushed. Choosing to forgive requires neither reconciliation nor restoration of trust in the absence of genuine and lasting repentance on the part of the abuser. The biblical principle of free will requires Christians to respect the choice of an abusive person to refuse repentance. Religious leaders must understand and be equipped to recognize dynamics of abuse, in order to avoid re-traumatizing victims. In cases of abuse, Matthew 18:15-17 does not, and cannot, apply as a method of conflict-resolution, specifically in cases of power differentials. Instead, those in positions of power are expected by God to provide safety and support to the victim. Urging the victim to forgive rapidly while enabling the abuser to continue in sin, is a perpetuation of the serpent’s first lie in the Garden, that sin does not cause death. The purpose of this paper is to examine biblical forgiveness in the context of abuse, provide insight on the concept of double abuse, and deconstruct common misunderstandings pertaining to abuse, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
... (Batson et al., 1991;Eisenberg & Fabes, 1990;Hoffman, 1981;Moore, 1990;Tangney, 1991;as cited in McCullough et al., 1997). More recent studies also further supported this argument, showing a close association between empathy and forgiveness, across genders (Mellor et al., 2012;Miller et al., 2008), and contributing to personal self-esteem (Turnage et al., 2012;Yao et al., 2017). ...
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The empathy model of forgiveness conceptualized forgiving as an empathy-facilitated motivational change that leads to reductions in the motivation to behave in relationship -destructive ways and increases in the motivation to behave in relationship-constructive ways toward an offender. In a Replication Registered Report with a US American Prolific sample (N = 794), we conducted a replication of Study 1 from McCullough et al. (1997) with extensions manipulating empathy to determine causality and measuring revenge motivation adopted from McCullough et al. (1998). We found support for an association between affective empathy of the wronged person and perceived apology (r = 0.45, 95% CI [0.35, 0.55]) and forgiveness toward the offender (r = 0.64, 95% CI [0.56, 0.70]). In terms of behavioral motivations, we found support for a negative association between forgiveness, avoidance motivation (r = -0.51, 95% CI [-0.59, -0.42]), and revenge motivation (r = -0.43, 95% CI [-0.52, -0.33]). We found support for a positive association between forgiveness and conciliatory motivation (r = 0.51, 95% CI [0.41, 0.59]). Extending the replication by manipulating empathy, we found that empathy had a causal impact on forgiveness (η2p = 0.08, 90% CI [0.05, 0.11]). Overall, we conclude strong empirical support for the empathy model of forgiveness. All materials, data, and code were made available on:
... We controlled for several important demographic variables in our analyses, including gender, age, family structure, and family socioeconomic status, as these variables may confound the relationship among peer victimization, self-esteem, forgiveness, and subjective well-being. First, the literature has documented that boys reported significantly more peer victimization (Cheng et al., 2008) and have higher levels of self-esteem than girls (Yan et al., 2021), although the gender difference in forgiveness and subjective well-being is inconsistent (Huebner, 2004;Ma & Jiang, 2020;Ma et al., 2015;Miller et al., 2008). In addition, compared with older adolescents, younger adolescents are more likely to experience peer victimization (Huang et al., 2013), have low levels of self-esteem (Bleidorn et al., 2016) but high levels of forgiveness and subjective well-being (Casas & González-Carrasco, 2019;Chiaramello et al. 2008). ...
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Considerable developmental research has shown an association between peer victimization and subjective well-being among adolescents. However, the mediating processes and protective factors that constrain this association are less understood. To fill these gaps, we investigated whether self-esteem mediates the association between peer victimization and subjective well-being and whether forgiveness moderates the direct and indirect associations of peer victimization with adolescents' subjective well-being via self-esteem. A large sample of 2,758 adolescents (Mage = 13.53 years, SD = 1.06) from 10 middle schools in China participated in this study. Participants provided data on demographic variables, peer victimization, self-esteem, forgiveness, and subjective well-being by answering anonymous questionnaires. After controlling for demographic covariates, we found that self-esteem mediated the relationship between peer victimization and subjective well-being. Furthermore, as a protective factor, forgiveness moderated the relationship between peer victimization and self-esteem. Consistent with the protective-reactive model, when adolescents experienced more peer victimization, those with higher forgiveness levels exhibited a greater decline in self-esteem, and low self-esteem was then associated with decreased subjective well-being. These findings demonstrate the utility of examining both mediating and moderating factors in this relationship and highlight the negative impact of peer victimization on adolescent self-worth and the limited role of forgiveness as a protective factor.
Sexual violence (SV) yields complex justice and therapeutic needs among its survivors. Restorative justice (RJ), conducted in addition to or instead of the criminal justice process following SV, provides a platform to address these needs and repair the harm. This study describes the dynamics of RJ processes following SV, leading to the emergence of dialogic forgiveness. Dialogic forgiveness refers to a reduction in negative thoughts, feelings, and motivations toward the responsible person (RP), and the emergence of positive ones within a process of mutual communication between the survivor, RP, and supporters. Focusing on survivors’ experiences, this study, conducted in Israel, is based on 16 semi-structured in-depth interviews with SV survivors who participated in RJ encounters, their five supporters, and five RJ facilitators. Gestures of accountability, humanization, and gratitude were identified as crucial elements of implicit and explicit dialogic forgiveness, demonstrating the healing power of RJ following SV.
Accumulating literature suggests that the risk of perpetrating bullying is greater among those who have been bullied. The association between the transition from victim to bully and revenge aggression suggests the critical role of forgiveness. However, evidence on the mediating role of forgiveness on the victimisation–bullying association is still sparse. The aim of this study was to investigate the mediating effect of person’s dispositional forgiveness (DF) on the relationship between cyber-victimisation (CV) and cyber-bullying (CB) and to explore the moderating effect of gender on this relationship. Four hundred eighty-one upper secondary students (n = 481, 47.8% females, mean age = 17.2, SD = 1.5) completed the Florence Cyber-Bullying – Cyber-Victimisation Scales and the Heartland Forgiveness Scale. Statistical analysis reveals significant direct and indirect effects between CV, DF, and CB latent variables. CV has a negative influence on DF and positive influence on CB behaviour. Furthermore, there was an indirect influence of CV on CB behaviour following the path through DF only in females. The results suggest that DF seems to decrease CB behaviours by buffering the adverse outcomes of being CV, particularly among female victims. The findings underline the relevance of forgiveness within preventative interventions against bullying and cyberbullying.
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Four studies examine the construct validity of the Tendency to Forgive Scale (TTF), a brief measure of dispositional forgiveness. Study 1 showed that romantic partners' ratings of targets converged with targets' self-ratings, and Study 2 demonstrated that higher scores on the TTF were associated with lower offense accessibility. Study 3 examined the TTF`s relation to self-reported depression symptoms, both independent of and interacting with attitudes toward forgiveness and dispositional vengeance. Lower TTF scores were associated with higher degrees of depression, especially for individuals with positive attitudes toward, forgiveness or those low in dispositional vengeance, although neither of these latter variables displayed significant zero-order relations with depression. Finally, Study 4 examined relations between the TTF, dispositional empathy, another recent measure of dispositional forgiveness, and the dimensions of the Big Five, providing both convergent and discriminant validity evidence for the TTF.
The investigators proposed that transgression-related interpersonal motivations result from 3 psychological parameters: forbearance (abstinence from avoidance and revenge motivations, and maintenance of benevolence), trend forgiveness (reductions in avoidance and revenge, and increases in benevolence), and temporary forgiveness (transient reductions in avoidance and revenge, and transient increases in benevolence). In 2 studies, the investigators examined this 3-parameter model. Initial ratings of transgression severity and empathy were directly related to forbearance but not trend forgiveness. Initial responsibility attributions were inversely related to forbearance but directly related to trend forgiveness. When people experienced high empathy and low responsibility attributions, they also tended to experience temporary forgiveness. The distinctiveness of each of these 3 parameters underscores the importance of studying forgiveness temporally.
In this meta-analysis, 9 published studies (N = 330) that investigated the efficacy of forgiveness interventions within counseling were examined. After a review of theories of forgiveness, it was discovered that the studies could logically be grouped into 3 categories: decision-based, process-based group, and process-based individual interventions. When compared with control groups, for measures of forgiveness and other emotional health measures, the decision-based interventions showed no effect, the process-based group interventions showed significant effects, and the process-based individual interventions showed large effects. Consequently, effectiveness has been shown for use of forgiveness in clinical and other settings.
Numerous accounts of research on promoting forgiveness in group settings have been published, indicating that forgiveness can be promoted successfully in varying degrees. Many have suggested that empathy-based interventions are often successful. It takes time to develop empathy for an offender. We report three studies of very brief attempts to promote forgiveness in psychoeducational group settings. The studies use ten-minute one-hour, two-hour, and 130-minute interventions with college students. The studies test whether various components-namely, pre-intervention videotapes and a letter-writing exercise-of a more complex model (the Pyramid Model to REACH Forgiveness) can produce forgiveness. Each study is reported on its own merits, but the main lesson is that the amount of forgiveness is related to time that participants spend empathizing with the transgressor. A brief intervention of two hours or less will probably not reliably promote much forgiveness; however, one might argue that it starts people on the road to forgiving.
To be unforgiving is harmful. The inability to come to terms with one's anger or strife often can lead to stress disorders, mental health disorders, and relationship problems. Forgiveness is a personal decision. Forgiveness and Reconciliation focuses on individual experiences with forgiveness, aiming to create a theory of what forgiveness is and connect it to a clinical theory of how to promote forgiveness. Dr. Worthington creates an evidence-based approach that is applicable for individuals and relationships, and even for society. He also describes an evidence-based method of reconciliation - restoring trust in damaged relationships. Dr. Worthington hopes that this theory will inform scientific research and improve intervention strategies. Showing that forgiveness transforms personality, Worthington describes ways a clinician can promote (but not force) forgiveness of others and self. He provides research-based theory and applications and discusses the role of emotion and specific personality traits as related to forgiveness. Forgiveness and reconciliation might not be cures, but, as Worthington shows, they are tools for transforming both the self and the world.