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In two studies, the authors investigated the associations between interpersonal forgiveness and psychological well-being. Cross-sectional and prospective multilevel analyses demonstrated that increases in forgiveness (measured as fluctuations in individuals' avoidance, revenge, and benevolence motivations toward their transgressors) were related to within-persons increases in psychological well-being (measured as more satisfaction with life, more positive mood, less negative mood, and fewer physical symptoms). Moreover, forgiveness was more strongly linked to well-being for people who reported being closer and more committed to their partners before the transgression and for people who reported that their partners apologized and made amends for the transgression. Evidence for the reverse causal model, that increases in well-being were related to increases in forgiveness, was also found. However, changes in feelings of closeness toward the partner appeared to account for the associations of forgiveness with well-being, but not vice versa.
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Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
DOI: 10.1177/0146167207310025
2008; 34; 182 originally published online Dec 6, 2007; Pers Soc Psychol Bull
Giacomo Bono, Michael E. McCullough and Lindsey M. Root
Forgiveness, Feeling Connected to Others, and Well-Being: Two Longitudinal Studies
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182
Forgiveness, Feeling Connected to Others,
and Well-Being: Two Longitudinal Studies
Giacomo Bono
Michael E. McCullough
Lindsey M. Root
University of Miami
we have conceptualized forgiveness as prosocial changes
in people’s transgression-related interpersonal motiva-
tions toward a transgressor. That is, when people for-
give a transgressor, they become less motivated by
revenge and avoidance and more motivated by benevo-
lence toward the transgressor (McCullough et al., 1998;
McCullough, Worthington, & Rachal, 1997). In cross-
sectional and longitudinal studies, forgiveness has been
associated with improved interpersonal relationships
between the forgiver and the transgressor (Karremans
& Van Lange, 2004; McCullough et al., 1998; Tsang,
McCullough, & Fincham, 2006). In addition to its
apparent relational benefits, forgiveness is also posi-
tively associated with psychological well-being (Brown,
2003; Freedman & Enright, 1996; Karremans, Van
Lange, Ouwerkerk, & Kluwer, 2003; Poloma &
Gallup, 1991). The link of forgiveness to these two sets
of outcomes (relational and psychological) may be more
than coincidental: Perhaps forgiveness obtains its asso-
ciation with psychological well-being precisely because
forgiveness helps people maintain and restore close rela-
tionships (Karremans et al., 2003).
Forgiveness, Well-Being, and Social Connectedness
Maintaining supportive relationships with kin and
nonkin is important for mental and physical health in
the present day (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; House,
Authors’ Note: This research was generously supported by grants
from the Campaign for Forgiveness Research and National Institute of
Mental Health R01MH071258. Correspondence regarding this arti-
cle may be sent to Michael McCullough, Department of Psychology,
University of Miami, P.O. Box 248185, Coral Gables, FL 33124-
0751; e-mail: mikem@miami.edu.
PSPB, Vol. 34 No. 2, February 2008 182-195
DOI: 10.1177/0146167207310025
© 2008 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.
In two studies, the authors investigated the associations
between interpersonal forgiveness and psychological
well-being. Cross-sectional and prospective multilevel
analyses demonstrated that increases in forgiveness (mea-
sured as fluctuations in individuals’ avoidance, revenge,
and benevolence motivations toward their transgressors)
were related to within-persons increases in psychological
well-being (measured as more satisfaction with life, more
positive mood, less negative mood, and fewer physical
symptoms). Moreover, forgiveness was more strongly
linked to well-being for people who reported being closer
and more committed to their partners before the trans-
gression and for people who reported that their partners
apologized and made amends for the transgression.
Evidence for the reverse causal model, that increases in
well-being were related to increases in forgiveness, was
also found. However, changes in feelings of closeness
toward the partner appeared to account for the associa-
tions of forgiveness with well-being, but not vice versa.
Keywords: forgiveness; closeness; well-being; apology;
longitudinal
W
hen negotiating interpersonal relationships, people
experience many motives and preferences, some in
service of immediate self-interest and some in service of
broader relationship concerns. Sometimes, though,
people’s self-interested motives and preferences may not
correspond to those of a given relationship partner (de
Waal, 2000; Kelley & Thibault, 1978; Rusbult, Verette,
Whitney, Slovik, & Lipkus, 1991). Thus, conflicts
inevitably arise and challenge relationships. By forgiving
each other, it appears, people are able to overcome the
negative effects conflict can have on their relationships
(e.g., Fincham, 2000; McCullough et al., 1998).
In our program of research (McCullough, Bono, &
Root, 2007; McCullough, Fincham, & Tsang, 2003),
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Bono et al. / FORGIVENESS AND WELL-BEING 183
Landis, & Umberson, 1988), and these salutary effects
may mirror the crucial role that such relationships
played in human evolution (Hamilton, 1964; Nesse,
2001; Trivers, 1971). The apparent link of forgiveness
to psychological well-being may therefore be due to the
fact that low psychological well-being can function as a
type of “information” that alerts people to relational
difficulties and creates motivation for improving
impaired social relations. This way of thinking about
the relationship of forgiveness, psychological well-
being, and relational well-being is similar to the way
that self-esteem can be conceptualized as an indicator of
lack of social acceptance (Leary, 2004), or that loneli-
ness can be viewed as feedback designed to prompt
people to remediate the hedonic and cognitive conse-
quences of social isolation (Cacioppo et al., 2006). Self-
determination theory provides a complementary (and
more proximally focused) explanation: Forgiveness
might obtain its association to well-being by influencing
the forgiver’s perceptions of his or her relationship with
the transgressor because maintaining a proper degree of
connectedness to others is a fundamental psychological
need (Reis, Sheldon, Gable, Roscoe, & Ryan, 2000).
Because forgiveness involves reductions of negative
motivations and the re-establishment of positive motiva-
tions toward transgressors, we posit that forgiveness
helps people to regain the perception that their relation-
ships with their offenders are characterized by closeness
and commitment (Tsang et al., 2006). Therefore, we pro-
pose that forgiving a relationship partner causes people
to perceive that they have “reconnected” to an important
source of social support and can again take advantage of
the material and emotional resources that supportive
social ties can confer. As a result, well-being improves.
Forgiveness, Restored Closeness, and Well-Being:
A Function of Pretransgression Closeness and
Transgressor Apology?
The ability of forgiveness to facilitate psychological
well-being, however, may depend on the quality of rela-
tionship partner one is forgiving. Karremans and col-
leagues (2003) found that forgiving was more strongly
associated with psychological well-being for people
who forgave a relationship partner to whom they were
highly committed than for people who forgave a rela-
tionship partner to whom they were not highly commit-
ted. This comports well with the theory of reciprocal
altruism (Trivers, 1971) as well as with self-determination
theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000), as it is relationships that
are close and committed prior to the transgression that
hold the most potential value to the forgiver. As a
result, if our informational view of psychological well-
being here is accurate, then it is the forgiveness of close,
committed relationship partners (and the improved
relationships that result) that should lead to the most
dramatic improvements in psychological well-being.
In this light, factors besides the victim’s degree of
commitment to the transgressor are likely to be impor-
tant also. One important factor to consider is the extent
to which transgressors apologize and make amends for
their transgressions. Ample evidence suggests that apolo-
gies can mitigate anger and yield constructive reactions
to harm and forgiveness (Hodgins & Liebeskind, 2003;
Ohbuchi, Kameda, & Agarie, 1989; Zechmeister,
Garcia, & Romero, 2004). Apologies are among the
most robust facilitators of forgiveness (e.g., McCullough
et al., 1997)—an effect that may be due in part to their
ability to convince victims that their transgressors pos-
sess goodwill for them (despite having previously hurt
them). Thus, in the absence of an apology, forgiveness
may be less conducive for psychological well-being
because the relationship may still be marked by uncer-
tainty about a transgressor’s intentions toward the vic-
tim (and thus, their future value as a relationship
partner). As a result of this lingering uncertainty about
a transgressor’s intentions toward the victim, forgive-
ness of an unapologetic transgressor would be less
strongly related to psychological well-being.
The Current Investigation
We conducted two studies to investigate how tempo-
rary changes in forgiveness—operationalized as transient
fluctuations in avoidance, revenge, and benevolence
motivations (McCullough et al., 2003; McCullough
et al., 2007)—are longitudinally related to well-being.
Using multilevel random coefficient models (Bryk &
Raudenbush, 1992; Hedeker, 2004), we sought to extend
the existing insights on the relationship between forgive-
ness and psychological well-being in several ways. First,
to date, all the work on the relationship between forgive-
ness and well-being has focused on individual differences
between persons rather than intra-individual differences
that occur within persons over time. In light of recent
research demonstrating forgiveness to be a time-varying
phenomenon (McCullough et al., 2003; McCullough
et al., 2007), use of evidence of within-persons (rather
than between-persons) associations are required to best
test whether forgiveness may lead to greater well-being.
Thus, we used recent methods for studying the within-
persons associations among variables (Nezlek, 2001) to
examine if psychological well-being is greater for people
on days when they are also more forgiving than is typical
for them and, insofar as it is, whether this association
appears to be mediated by increased perceptions of close-
ness and commitment to the transgressor.
Second, we examined whether these intra-individual
relationships between forgiveness and psychological well-
being were stronger for people who felt relatively close
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184 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
and committed to their relationship partners before the
transgression (Karremans et al., 2003). Third, because
research has shown that apologies foster forgiveness and
reconciliation, we also investigated whether individual
differences in the degree to which transgressors were per-
ceived to apologize and make amends for their transgres-
sions moderated the within-person associations among
forgiveness, closeness vis-à-vis the transgressor, and well-
being. In Study 1 we examined the concurrent associa-
tions among these variables, and in Study 2 we conducted
prospective, cross-lagged analyses to examine possible
causal relations among these variables.
STUDY 1
METHOD
Participants and Procedure
Participants were 115 students in undergraduate psy-
chology courses (91 women; M age = 19.76, SD = 2.61)
at Southern Methodist University. We identified individ-
uals who had experienced a serious interpersonal trans-
gression within the past 7 days through in-class
solicitations (and a screening instrument). Qualified par-
ticipants received preliminary questionnaires. After
returning these questionnaires, they were scheduled to
complete up to five follow-up questionnaires in the sec-
ond author’s laboratory, approximately every 2 weeks on
the same weekday and time (ideally). They received extra
course credit for participating and $20 for completing all
five assessments. All participants had experienced inter-
personal transgressions within the past 7 days (M = 4.04
days, SD = 1.82). Of the 115 participants, 96 completed
all five visits, 5 completed four visits, 5 completed three
visits, 5 completed two, and 4 completed only one.
Although aspects of these data have been analyzed and
reported elsewhere (McCullough et al. 2003, Study 2),
this is the only article addressing the relationship of for-
giveness and psychological well-being.
Measures
Interpersonal forgiveness. Participants’ forgiveness
toward a transgressor was measured in both the initial
follow-up surveys with an 18-item version of McCullough
et al.’s (1998) Transgression-Related Interpersonal
Motivations (TRIM) Inventory. Participants are asked to
rate on 5-point Likert-type scales how much they agree or
disagree with each item. The Avoidance subscale has 7
items measuring motivation to avoid contact with a trans-
gressor (e.g., “I live as if he/she doesn’t exist, isn’t around”),
the Revenge subscale has 5 items measuring motivation to
seek revenge (e.g., “I’ll make him/her pay”), and the
Benevolence subscale has 6 items measuring concilia-
tory motivation toward the transgressor (e.g., “Despite
what he/she did, I want us to have a positive relation-
ship again”). The subscales had adequate internal con-
sistency and test-retest stability across all measurement
occasions (i.e., alphas ranged from .85 to .95, and rs
ranged from .54 to .93). The scale has also shown good
convergent and discriminant validity (McCullough,
Bellah, Kilpatrick, & Johnson, 2001; McCullough
et al., 1998; McCullough et al., 2003; McCullough &
Hoyt, 2002).
Perceived transgression painfulness. Participants
completed a single item having them rate on a 7-point
Likert-type scale how painful they perceived the trans-
gression to be (ranging from 0 = not painful at all to
6 = worst pain I ever felt) in the initial survey.
1
Psychological well-being. In this article, we define
well-being in the hedonic tradition as a person’s subjec-
tive assessment of the overall presence of pleasure and
absence of pain, commonly defined as happiness, and
viewed well-being as embodying satisfaction with life,
experiencing positive emotions more and negative emo-
tions less, and experiencing fewer physical symptoms
(Reis et al., 2000). Psychological well-being was mea-
sured with the combination of four scales in both initial
and follow-up surveys. The extent to which participants
felt satisfied with their lives was measured by the
Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS; Diener, Emmons,
Larsen, & Griffin, 1985). This scale has five items that
measure subjective well-being and showed high internal
consistency and moderate test-retest stability estimates
across all five measurement occasions (alphas ranged
from .89 to .96 and test-retest rs ranged from .71
to .92).
Moods. Positive and negative mood states were mea-
sured at initial and follow-up sessions with the Positive
and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS; Watson, Clark,
& Tellegen, 1988). The measure consists of 20 items
asking participants to rate on 5-point Likert-type scales
how much they experienced different emotions (e.g.,
“upset” or “proud”) in the past 2 weeks. Internal con-
sistency and test-retest stability estimates across all five
measurement occasions were high for both positive and
negative PANAS subscales (alphas ranged from .78 to
.93 and test-retest rs ranged from .44 to .76).
Psychosomatic symptoms. A self-report inventory
was used to measure participants’ experience of 27
physical symptoms (e.g., dizziness, aches and pains, and
poor appetite) using items drawn from other surveys
(e.g., Bartone, Ursano, Wright, & Ingraham, 1989;
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Emmons, 1992). These scales also showed high internal
consistency and test-retest stability estimates across all
five measurement occasions (alphas ranged from .91 to
.94 and test-retest rs ranged from .20 to .51).
Because these measures of well-being were moder-
ately intercorrelated, we constructed an overall well-
being composite by standardizing them to render them
in the same scale, reverse scoring the negative indices
(i.e., negative affect and physical symptoms) to render
them all in the same direction, and averaging them
together into an overall well-being index (alphas across
all five measurement occasions ranged from .73 to .79
and test-retest rs ranged from .62 to .88).
Closeness to the partner before and after the trans-
gression. Participants’ feelings of closeness to their
transgressors were measured in the initial survey by
three self-report items: (a) “How close were you to the
person who hurt you before the transgression?” (rated
on a Likert-type scale from 0 = not at all to 6 =
extremely close); (b) “How committed were you to the
person who hurt you before the transgression?” (rated
on a scale from 0 = not at all to 6 = extremely commit-
ted); and (c) the Inclusion of Other in the Self Scale
(IOS; Aron, Aron, & Smollan, 1992).
2
The IOS presents
seven pairs of circles (ranging from no overlap to
extreme overlap) and instructs participants to circle the
pair that best describes their relationship to the person
before the transgression. Responses were coded on a 7-
point scale, with 1 indicating no overlap and 7 indicat-
ing extreme overlap. These three items were combined
to measure participants’ sense of closeness to their rela-
tionship partners before the transgression (α=.87).
3
The above items were modified to measure partici-
pants’ closeness, commitment, and self–other overlap
with their relationship partners after the transgression
and included in follow-up assessments. They were like-
wise combined to measure participants’ feelings of
closeness after the transgression (alphas ranged from
.87 to .94 and test-retest rs ranged from .62 to .82).
Apology/making amends. How much participants
thought their transgressors apologized and made
amends for their transgressions was measured with the
mean of two items: (a) “How apologetic was the
offender toward you?” and (b) “To what extent did he
or she make amends for what he/she did to you?” (both
had Likert-type scales ranging from 0 = not at all to 6 =
completely). The measure had good internal consistency
and test-retest stability across follow-up assessments
(alphas ranged from .79 to .90 and rs ranged from .56
to .70). An individual difference variable for overall
apology/made amends was created by averaging all five
measurement occasions (α=.91).
Data Analytic Strategy
Our data conformed to a two-level hierarchical
structure (repeated measures nested within individuals),
so we used multilevel random coefficient models (Bryk
& Raudenbush, 1992; Hedeker, 2004) using the HLM
6.2 statistical software package (Raudenbush, Bryk,
Cheong, & Congdon, 2000) to analyze how people’s
forgiveness and feelings of closeness to their transgres-
sors were related to within-person changes in the well-
being composite variable.
First, we wished to know if people’s TRIMs (avoid-
ance, revenge and benevolence) and feelings of closeness
toward their transgressors were each related to psycho-
logical well-being. We tested these hypotheses with
within-person, or Level-1, models (for each TRIM and
for closeness) of the form:
Well-Being
ij
0j
1j
(Time)ij
2j
(TRIM or Feelings of Closeness)
ij
+ r
ij
(1)
In Equation 1, person j’s well-being on Day i is modeled
as a function of person j’s intercept (i.e., expected well-
being score when the other predictors have a value of 0),
linear change in time since the transgression occurred for
person j (i.e., number of weeks to the nearest 1/7th of a
week from the first assessment), one of the TRIM sub-
scales (i.e., Avoidance, Revenge, or Benevolence motiva-
tion) or feelings of closeness, and a residual (i.e., variance
in well-being that cannot be accounted for by the inter-
cept, linear change in well-being, or a person’s TRIM
score on that specific measurement occasion). We predicted
between-persons differences in the within-persons associa-
tions with the following fixed (i.e., time-invariant) covariates
at Level-2:
β
0j
00
+ u
0j
; (2)
β
1j
10
+ u
1j
; (3)
β
2j
20
21
(Feelings of Closeness Before)
j
22
(Apology)
j
+ u
2j
. (4)
Thus, we modeled the intercept and linear change β
coefficients in the Level-1 models as a function of a
grand mean and a person-specific residual, and we fur-
ther modeled the TRIM (or feelings of closeness) β coef-
ficients as functions of feelings of closeness to the
transgressor before the transgression and apology/
amends on the part of the transgressor. These multilevel
models allowed us to examine whether fluctuations in
well-being occurred as a function of transient fluctua-
tions in each TRIM (or in feelings of closeness) above
or below the values expected on the basis of people’s
Bono et al. / FORGIVENESS AND WELL-BEING 185
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initial status and linear change (over time) in well-being.
Moreover, these analyses allowed us to test if between-
persons differences in closeness before the transgression
and apology/making amends moderated the strength of
the within-person associations between the TRIMs (or
feelings of closeness) and well-being.
Having evaluated the associations of forgiveness and
feelings of closeness with well-being, we proceeded to
evaluate whether feelings of closeness mediated any
obtained relationships between the TRIMs and well-
being. Thus, we first regressed feelings of closeness onto
each TRIM, and then we regressed well-being onto each
TRIM and feelings of closeness with the following
Level-1 equations:
Feelings of Closeness
ij
0j
1j
(Time)
ij
+
β
2j
(TRIM)
ij
+ r
ij
; (5)
Well-Being
ij
0j
1j
(Time)
ij
2j
(TRIM)
ij
+
β
3j
(Feelings of Closeness)
ij
+ r
ij
. (6)
We included between-person covariates for closeness
and apology in only the TRIM parameters. These mul-
tilevel models allowed us to examine whether feelings of
closeness appeared to mediate the relationships between
the TRIMs and well-being.
RESULTS
Descriptive Statistics
Participants reported transgressions committed by
girlfriends or boyfriends (59%), friends of the same
gender (19%), friends of the other gender (11%), rel-
atives (10%), husbands or wives (3%), and “others”
(9%). One person did not report the type of relation-
ship involved. Participants described several types of
transgressions, including betrayals of confidence or
insults by a friend (28%), arguments or neglect by a
romantic partner, spouse, or ex-romantic partner
(22%); infidelity by a romantic partner or spouse
(19%); rejection, neglect, or insult by a family member
(10%); termination of romantic relationship (11%);
insults by people other than family or friends (3%);
and rejection or abandonment by a friend or prospec-
tive relationship partner (2%). Five participants did
not describe their transgressions. Mean levels on the
between-persons measures were as follows: closeness
before the transgression was M = 4.97, SD = 1.25,
and perceived apology by the transgressor across all
five time points was M = 2.44, SD = 1.63. Table 1 dis-
play means and standard deviations for the repeated
measures.
Are Within-Person Fluctuations in Well-Being
Associated With Forgiveness?
We first examined whether people tended to experi-
ence greater well-being than expected on any given day
(based on their initial status and linear change estimates
in well-being) when they were also more forgiving (i.e.,
less avoidant and vengeful and more benevolent) toward
their transgressors than was typical for them. Table 2
lists the parameter estimates for these models.
Avoidance motivation covaried significantly and nega-
tively with well-being, t(df = 112) = –2.48, p = .015,
effect size r = –.23. For the average person, every one-
unit increase in avoidance above that person’s mean
was associated with a .09 reduction in well-being. There
was also a cross-level interaction (of marginal statistical
significance) with closeness of the relationship before
the transgression, t(df = 112) = –1.89, p = .06, r = –.18.
For each unit a person felt closer to the partner before
the transgression, that person tended to experience an
additional .06 reduction in well-being for each one-unit
increase in avoidance motivation.
The association between within-persons changes in
revenge motivation and well-being was nonsignificant for
the average person in our sample, t(df = 112) =−1.15,
p = .25, effect size r = –.11. However, this association
had a cross-level interaction with apology/amends on
the part of the transgression, t(df = 112) = –2.22, p =
.03, r = –.20. For each unit increase in the degree to
which people thought their transgressors apologized/
made amends, the association of revenge motivation
and psychological well-being became .06 units more
negative. That is, the negative association between
revenge motivation and well-being became stronger to
the extent that participants perceived the transgressor
had apologized.
For the Benevolence subscale, the opposite pattern
emerged. Benevolence motivation covaried significantly
and positively with well-being, t(df = 112) = 2.92, p =
.005, r = .26. For the average person, every one-unit
increase in benevolence above the mean was associated
with a .13 increase in well-being. Therefore, on occa-
sions when people reported being more benevolent than
typical toward their transgressors, they also tended to
report greater well-being.
4
Are Within-Person Fluctuations in Well-Being
Associated With Feeling Close to the
Transgressor?
Next, we investigated whether people experienced
greater well-being than expected (based on their initial
status and linear change estimates) on any given day
when they also felt closer to their transgressors on that
day. We found that fluctuations in feelings of closeness
186 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
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Bono et al. / FORGIVENESS AND WELL-BEING 187
TABLE 1: Means and Standard Deviations for Major Variables Across Observations for Study 1 and 2
Avoidance Revenge Benevolence Closeness Well-Being
Time Point M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD)
Study 1
T1 3.11 (1.08) 1.83 (0.83) 3.05 (1.02) 2.38 (1.74) –0.35 (0.76)
T2 2.96 (1.10) 1.61 (0.80) 3.25 (1.00) 2.73 (1.80) –0.05 (0.77)
T3 2.82 (1.13) 1.53 (0.77) 3.31 (1.04) 2.58 (1.85) 0.11 (0.70)
T4 2.74 (1.10) 1.52 (0.79) 3.38 (1.04) 2.64 (1.89) 0.16 (0.75)
T5 2.70 (1.15) 1.48 (0.87) 3.39 (1.07) 2.54 (1.84) 0.18 (0.78)
Study 2
T1 3.52 (1.02) 2.28 (1.02) 2.51 (0.91) 2.51 (1.81) –0.61 (0.87)
T2 3.52 (1.07) 2.18 (1.02) 2.48 (0.91) 2.37 (1.72) –0.55 (0.87)
T3 3.40 (1.10) 2.19 (1.06) 2.54 (0.99) 2.35 (1.76) –0.41 (0.84)
T4 3.31 (1.15) 2.17 (1.06) 2.59 (1.08) 2.38 (1.80) –0.27 (0.87)
T5 3.26 (1.21) 2.08 (1.08) 2.64 (1.10) 2.38 (1.85) –0.15 (0.82)
T6 3.20 (1.22) 2.02 (1.04) 2.64 (1.07) 2.38 (1.85) –0.08 (0.82)
T7 3.18 (1.23) 2.05 (1.06) 2.69 (1.08) 2.47 (1.87) –0.05 (0.78)
T8 3.13 (1.24) 1.97 (1.04) 2.76 (1.13) 2.47 (1.94) –0.02 (0.80)
T9 3.05 (1.27) 1.91 (1.01) 2.79 (1.16) 2.46 (1.93) 0.04 (0.77)
T10 3.03 (1.22) 1.84 (0.95) 2.75 (1.09) 2.46 (1.92) 0.05 (0.76)
T11 3.03 (1.22) 1.85 (0.96) 2.81 (1.09) 2.50 (1.94) 0.06 (0.79)
T12 3.00 (1.19) 1.84 (0.95) 2.78 (1.10) 2.49 (1.97) 0.06 (0.76)
T13 2.99 (1.16) 1.87 (0.97) 2.82 (1.04) 2.46 (1.92) 0.12 (0.68)
T14 2.92 (1.19) 1.89 (0.95) 2.85 (1.05) 2.45 (1.87) 0.11 (0.68)
T15 2.85 (1.16) 1.84 (0.96) 2.93 (1.04) 2.53 (1.89) 0.09 (0.68)
T16 2.77 (1.17) 1.79 (0.93) 3.00 (1.06) 2.69 (1.91) 0.17 (0.69)
T17 2.75 (1.19) 1.81 (1.00) 2.99 (1.10) 2.73 (2.02) 0.22 (0.69)
T18 2.71 (1.21) 1.86 (1.03) 3.02 (1.10) 2.70 (1.73) 0.18 (0.70)
T19 2.67 (1.18) 1.79 (0.97) 3.06 (1.14) 2.77 (2.04) 0.24 (0.72)
T20 2.71 (1.23) 1.81 (0.94) 3.09 (1.18) 2.81 (2.06) 0.27 (0.68)
T21 2.64 (1.20) 1.75 (0.94) 3.16 (1.15) 2.93 (2.07) 0.28 (0.71)
TABLE 2: Linear Models of Longitudinal Change in Well-Being (WB) as a Function of Forgiveness, Study 1
Measure (Parameter) Coefficient SE t Value Effect Size r % VAF
a
χ
2
(1, N
=
114)
Avoidance motivation as measure of forgiveness
Initial status in WB –0.32 0.07 79.54 388.47
§
Linear change in WB
b
0.06 0.01 7.92
§
0.60 0.62 220.13
§
Avoidance –0.09 0.04 –2.48*** –0.23 2.54 127.95**
Closeness before
c
–0.06 0.03 –1.89* –0.18
Apology/amends
c
–0.02 0.01 –1.29
NS
–0.12
Revenge motivation as measure of forgiveness
Initial status in WB –0.33 0.07 77.66 322.70
§
Linear change in WB 0.07 0.01 7.58
§
0.58 0.68 137.96
§
Revenge –0.07 0.06 –1.15
NS
–0.11 6.44 103.62*
Closeness before –0.00 0.04 –0.08
NS
–0.01
Apology/amends –0.06 0.03 –2.22** –0.20
Benevolence motivation as measure of forgiveness
Initial status in WB –0.31 0.07 78.70 333.12
§
Linear change in WB 0.06 0.01 7.73
§
0.59 0.61 177.12
§
Benevolence 0.13 0.04 2.92**** 0.26 4.09 97.08
NS
Closeness before 0.06 0.04 1.33
NS
0.12
Apology/amends 0.02 0.02 0.62
NS
0.06
a. % VAF = percentage of variance accounted for by parameters.
b. Linear change estimate is based on a 1-week unit.
c. All models included between-persons covariates for feelings of closeness before the transgression and perceived apology/amends from trans-
gressor in only the forgiveness parameters.
*p < .10. **p < .05. ***p < .02. ****p < .01.
§
p < .001.
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188 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
to the transgressor covaried significantly and positively
with well-being, t(df = 112) = 2.09, p = .04, r = .19. For
the average person, every one-unit increase in feelings of
closeness (above his or her mean) was associated with a
.06 increase in well-being. Moreover, the strength of
this association was moderated by the extent to which
that person perceived the transgressor apologized/made
amends, t(df = 112) = 2.27, p = .04, r = .21. Thus, for
each unit-increase in the extent to which someone per-
ceived that his or her transgressor apologized/made
amends, a one-unit increase in closeness was associated
with an additional .04 increase in well-being above that
person’s mean.
Do Feelings of Closeness Mediate
the Relationship Between Well-Being
and Forgiveness?
Having found that well-being was associated with
transient fluctuations in people’s TRIMs (viz.,
Avoidance and Benevolence) and transient fluctuations
in people’s feelings of closeness to their transgressors,
we proceeded to examine whether feelings of closeness
mediated the associations of avoidance and benevolence
with well-being.
According to Baron and Kenny (1986), to test
whether a variable such as feelings of closeness mediates
the associations between the TRIMs and well-being,
several conditions must be satisfied. First, the predictor
variable (i.e., each TRIM) must be associated with the
outcome variable (i.e., well-being). Second, the pre-
sumed mediator (i.e., feelings of closeness) must like-
wise be associated with the outcome (i.e., well-being).
Third, the predictor (each TRIM) must be associated
with the presumed mediator (closeness). Lastly, upon
regressing the outcome of well-being onto both the pre-
dictor (each TRIM) and presumed mediator (closeness)
simultaneously, the presumed mediator (closeness) must
maintain a significant association with the presumed
outcome (well-being). These conditions can be evalu-
ated with Sobel’s (1982) test for mediation. Krull and
MacKinnon (2001) showed that these criteria can be
used to test mediation in multilevel models. We used
Preacher and Leonardelli’s (2001) online calculation
tool for mediation tests to conduct the Sobel test.
Results, so far, supported the first two conditions for
mediation. The first two columns of data in Table 3,
labeled β(yx) and β(mx), display the coefficients pro-
duced from individually regressing outcome y (i.e., well-
being) and presumed mediator m (i.e., feelings of
closeness) onto the predictor variables x (i.e., each
TRIM). They show that although all three TRIMs were
associated with feelings of closeness, only avoidance
and benevolence motivation were associated with well-
being. The third column, labeled β(ym.x), shows that
feelings of closeness remained significantly associated
with well-being when avoidance or benevolence moti-
vation were controlled. The fourth column, labeled
β(yx.m), shows that the associations well-being had
with avoidance and benevolence motivation were no
longer significant when feelings of closeness were con-
trolled. This pattern supports the hypothesis that feel-
ings of closeness mediated the associations of avoidance
and benevolence with well-being. The Sobel tests,
whose t values are in the fifth column, demonstrate that
the degree of mediation was statistically significant.
5
DISCUSSION
In Study 1, we examined whether the well-established
correlation between measures of forgiveness and mea-
sures of well-being (e.g., Brown, 2003; Hebl & Enright,
1993; Karremans et al., 2003; Krause & Ellison, 2003;
McCullough et al., 1998; Seybold, Hill, Neumann, &
Chi, 2001) existed at the within-persons level. This
hypothesis was largely supported. Results also sup-
ported the notion that the relationship of forgiveness
TABLE 3: Mediation Models for Study 1 and Study 2
a
Predictor(X)
>
Mediator(M)
>
Outcome(Y) β(yx) β(mx) β(ym.x) β(yx.m) Sobel’s t
Study 1
Avoidance > Closeness > Well-Being .09*** .70
§
.06** .04
NS
2.21**
Revenge > Closeness > Well-Being .07
NS
.42
§
N/A N/A N/A
Benevolence > Closeness > Well-Being .13**** .83
§
.07** .08
NS
2.62****
Study 2
Avoidance yesterday > Closeness > Well-Being .04*** .25
§
.10
§
.01
NS
4.38
§
Revenge yesterday > Closeness > Well-Being .04** .16
§
.10
§
.03
NS
3.55
§
Benevolence yesterday > Closeness > Well-Being .01
NS
.16
§
N/A N/A N/A
NOTE: N/A = Nonapplicable results because the presumed predictor was not associated with the presumed outcome in the bivariate regression.
a. All Level-1 models included fixed Level-2 covariates (centered around grand means) representing feelings of closeness before the transgression
and perceived apology from transgressor in the Transgression-Related Interpersonal Motivations (TRIM) parameters of those models.
**p < .05. ***p < .02. ****p < .01.
§
p < .001.
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Bono et al. / FORGIVENESS AND WELL-BEING 189
and well-being can differ between people depending on
how close and committed people are to their transgres-
sors prior to the transgression and the degree to which
people perceived their transgressors to have apologized
and made amends for their hurtful behavior. In general,
feelings of closeness to one’s transgressor prior to the
transgressor and the perception that one’s transgressor
has apologized and made amends appear to strengthen
the association of forgiveness and well-being. This is
consistent with Karremans et al.’s (2003) research on the
role of commitment as a moderator of the association of
forgiveness with psychological well-being.
Evidence also supported the notion that when people
felt closer and more committed than typical to their part-
ners they also experienced elevations in well-being, and
that these increases in feelings of closeness were greater
for people whose transgressors apologized and made
amends more. Moreover, evidence showed that increases
in feelings of closeness could explain the within-persons
associations between forgiveness and well-being.
STUDY 2
The purpose of Study 2 was to explore with greater
statistical rigor the possibility that the observed associ-
ations between forgiveness and well-being are causal in
nature. That is, we wanted to know if the covariance
structure among the TRIMs, feelings of closeness, and
well-being supported the hypotheses that (a) being rela-
tively forgiving on a given day is associated with greater
well-being on the successive day and (b) being relatively
forgiving on a given day is associated with better well-
being on the successive day by way of increasing feel-
ings of closeness toward the transgressor on the
successive day. An additional aim of Study 2 was to test
the reverse causal model for the correlations obtained in
Study 1, namely, if well-being exerts a causal influence
on forgiveness via feelings of closeness.
Method
Participants and Procedure
Participants were 165 students in undergraduate psy-
chology courses (112 women) at the University of
Miami. Again, all participants had experienced a trans-
gression within the past 7 days (M = 4.37 days, SD =
1.85; M age = 19.61, SD = 3.82) at the time of enroll-
ment. They received course credit for participating and
$20 for completing the tasks described here (and a sep-
arate laboratory session not described here). We visited
these courses throughout the semester, screened, then
enrolled participants who qualified by giving them pre-
liminary and 21 follow-up surveys. They were instructed
to complete one each day, date and complete each
honestly (without responding later to skipped days),
and then return completed packets to the laboratory
(after approximately 21 days). Completion rates were
very high, with 109 participants (66.9%) completing all
21 diary entries and only 9 (5.5%) completing fewer
than 10. Though we evaluated the links of forgiveness and
well-being using this dataset in only the present article,
other details of the data set can be obtained from
McCullough et al. (2007).
Measures
We used the same or shorter instruments (to reduce
burden) as in Study 1 to measure forgiveness, satisfac-
tion with life, positive/negative mood (9-item version),
physical symptoms (16-item version), feelings of close-
ness to the transgressor before and after the transgres-
sion, and perceptions of transgressor apology/amends.
Likewise, all instruments were included in initial and
follow-up surveys. The major difference was that par-
ticipants completed instruments daily (rather than
bimonthly) and wherever they chose (rather than in a
laboratory). All measures had comparable internal con-
sistency and test-retest reliabilities to Study 1.
Statistical Models and Data Analyses
Our first aim was to replicate the findings from Study
1 using cross-lagged analyses. Thus, we first examined
if people’s TRIM scores or feelings of closeness on any
given day were each prospectively associated with their
well-being on the next day, and then we examined if
their TRIM scores were prospectively associated with
feelings of closeness toward their transgressors on the
next day, while controlling for their well-being and feel-
ings of closeness on the same day, to test whether feel-
ings of closeness served as a mediator between the
TRIMs and well-being. We computed the following
HLM equations (separately for each TRIM):
Well-Being
ij
0j
1j
(Time)
ij
2j
(Well-Being)
i – 1,j
+
β
3j
(TRIM)
i – 1,j
4j
(Feelings of Closeness)
i – 1,j
+ r
ij
; (7)
Feelings of Closeness
ij
0j
1j
(Time)
ij
+
β
2j
(Well-Being)
i – 1,j
3j
(TRIM)
i – 1,j
4j
(Feelings
of Closeness)
i – 1,j
+ r
ij
. (8)
To assess the possibility that forgiveness on a given
day led to increased well-being the next day, we eval-
uated the statistical significance of the β
3j
coefficients
for each TRIM. To assess the possibility that feelings
of closeness on a given day led to increased well-being
on the next day, we computed a model like Equation
7, but without a TRIM as a predictor variable, and
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190 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
evaluated the statistical significance of the β coefficient
for feelings of closeness on Day i – 1. Then we pro-
ceeded to examine if any of the TRIMs’ prospective
associations with well-being were mediated by feelings
of closeness. We did this by estimating a model akin to
Equation 7 separately for each TRIM, but with person
j’s feelings of closeness on Day i added as another pre-
dictor variable. These multilevel models allowed us to
evaluate whether (a) forgiveness was associated with
well-being on the next day, (b) feelings of closeness
were associated with well-being on the next day, (c)
forgiveness was associated with feelings of closeness
toward the transgressor on the next day, and (d) the
prospective association of forgiveness with well-being
could be accounted for by increased feelings of close-
ness on the next day.
As in Study 1, we included between-persons covari-
ates representing closeness before the transgression and
apology/amends in only the TRIM on Day i-1 parame-
ters (or in the feelings of closeness on Day i – 1 para-
meter). This allowed us to examine if any prospective links
of the TRIMs (or feelings of closeness) with well-being dif-
fered as a function of prior closeness and apology/ amends.
Finally, our second aim in Study 2 was to examine if
well-being was prospectively related to the TRIMs and
whether feelings of closeness served as a mediator in
this reverse causal model. We did this by computing
HLMs similar to those above for each TRIM (but using
no between-person covariates
6
):
TRIM
ij
0j
1j
(Time)
ij
2j
(Well-Being)
i – 1,j
+
β
3j
(TRIM)
i – 1,j
4j
(Feelings of Closeness)
i – 1,j
+ r
ij
; (9)
Feelings of Closeness
ij
0j
1j
(Time)
ij
+
β
2j
(Well-Being)
i – 1,j
3j
(TRIM)
i – 1,j
4j
(Feelings
of Closeness)
i – 1,j
+ r
ij
. (10)
RESULTS
Descriptive Statistics
As in Study 1, our sample included many types of
partners and transgressions. Participants reported trans-
gressions committed by girlfriends or boyfriends (50%),
friends of like gender (19%), relatives (13%), friends of
the other gender (9%), husbands or wives (1%) and “oth-
ers” (8%). They also described several types of transgres-
sions, including infidelity by a romantic partner or spouse
(29%); friends’ insults or betrayals of confidence (20%);
rejection, neglect, or insult by a family member (13%);
termination of a romantic relationship (13%); neglect
by a romantic or ex-romantic partner or spouse (10%);
rejection or abandonment by a friend or prospective
relationship partner (10%); and insults by others (5%).
The between-persons measures had comparable means
to Study 1: Closeness before the transgression was M =
4.90, SD = 1.29; overall perceived apology/amends was
M = 2.39, SD = 1.82 (all on 7-point scales). Table 1 dis-
plays descriptive statistics for the repeated measures.
Is Forgiveness on a Given Day Associated With
Greater Well-Being on the Successive Day?
Multilevel models showed that on any given Day i
1, when people had higher levels of avoidance or
revenge motivation toward their transgressors than was
typical for them, they tended to also have lower levels
of well-being on the following Day i than we could
expect based on their well-being trajectories alone [for
avoidance t(df = 161) = –2.38, p = .02, effect size r =
–.18; for revenge t(df = 161) = –1.96, p = .05, effect size
r = –.15], even after controlling for the covariation
among avoidance (or revenge), well-being, and feelings
of closeness on Day i – 1 (see Table 4). Moreover, we
found cross-level interactions with both of our individ-
ual difference variables. That is, the prospective associ-
ation of avoidance and well-being was stronger for
people who were closer to their partners before the
transgression, t(df = 161) = –2.12, p = .04, effect size r
= –.16, and for people who thought that their trans-
gressors were more apologetic for the transgression t(df
= 161) = –2.33, p = .02, effect size r = –.18. The prospec-
tive association of revenge and well-being was also
stronger (with marginal statistical significance) for people
who were relatively close to their partners before the trans-
gression, t(df = 161) = –1.65, p = .10, effect size r = –.13.
The link between benevolence on any given Day i – 1,
and well-being on the following Day i, was nonsignifi-
cant for the average person in our sample, t(df = 161) =
0.63, p = .13, effect size r = .12. However, this associa-
tion was moderated by between-persons differences in
perceived apology/amends, t(df = 159) = 3.64, p = .001,
effect size r = .27. Together, these results suggest that
forgiveness may lead to later levels of well-being, partic-
ularly when forgiveness is measured in terms of reduced
avoidance and revenge motivation (Finkel, 1995). As
with Study 1, these results also provide evidence that the
associations between forgiveness and well-being were
stronger when people were forgiving someone to whom
they felt closer before the transgression or someone who
apologized/made amends more.
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Bono et al. / FORGIVENESS AND WELL-BEING 191
Are Feelings of Closeness on a Given Day
Associated With Greater Well-Being on the
Successive Day?
Next, we investigated whether people experienced
greater well-being than expected on any given day (on
the basis of their initial status and linear change estimates)
when they felt closer to their transgressors on the previ-
ous day. The link between feelings of closeness on any
given Day i – 1 and well-being on the following Day i
was nonsignificant for the average person in our sam-
ple, t(df = 161) = 0.89, p = .38, effect size r = .07.
However, this association was moderated by between-
persons differences in perceived apology/amends, t(df =
161) = 2.99, p = .004, effect size r = .23. Thus, the rela-
tionship of closeness and well-being was stronger
among people whose transgressors had apologized and
made amends than it was among those whose trans-
gressors had not done so.
Does Forgiveness Obtain Its Link to Well-Being by
Way of Feelings of Closeness to the Transgressor?
Because increases in avoidance and revenge on any
given day were associated with reductions in well-being
the next day, we next examined whether people’s
TRIMs on Day i – 1 were associated with people’s
feelings of closeness toward the transgressor on Day i
and whether feelings of closeness on Day i mediated the
prospective associations of avoidance and revenge with
well-being, after controlling for the covariation
between these TRIMs, well-being, and feelings of close-
ness on Day i – 1. The first column in Table 3 displays
the coefficients produced from regressing the outcome
(well-being) on Day i upon the predictor variables
(each TRIM) on Day i – 1. Column 2 shows the results
of regressing the presumed mediator (feelings of close-
ness) on Day i upon each TRIM on Day i – 1. These
coefficients indicate that avoidance, revenge, and
benevolence motivation on Day i – 1 were each associ-
ated with feelings of closeness on Day i. The third and
fourth columns display the unique associations of well-
being on Day i with feelings of closeness on Day i and
with avoidance or revenge motivations on Day i – 1
(respectively), when predictor and mediator are entered
simultaneously in regression models. These coefficients
indicate that feelings of closeness (our presumed medi-
ator) had unique and significant associations with well-
being when avoidance or revenge motivations on Day i
– 1 were statistically controlled. Together with the
Sobel tests, whose t values are in the fifth column, this
pattern supports the conclusion that the observed
increases in well-being on Day i associated with
TABLE 4: Linear Models of Cross-Lagged Correlations Between Well-Being (WB) and Forgiveness, Study 2
a
Measure (Parameter) Coefficient SE t Value Effect Size r % VAF
b
χ
2
(1, N
=
164)
Avoidance motivation as measure of forgiveness
Initial status in WB –0.24 0.06 85.39 1111.60
§
Linear change in WB
c
0.02 0.00 8.60
§
0.53 0.04 244.42
§
Avoidance yesterday –0.04 0.02 –2.38*** –0.18 0.96 183.97****
Closeness before
d
–0.03 0.01 –2.12** –0.16
Apology/amends
d
–0.02 0.01 –2.33*** –0.18
Revenge motivation as measure of forgiveness
Initial status in WB –0.24 0.06 84.62 1110.27
§
Linear change in WB 0.02 0.00 9.10
§
0.58 0.04 240.69
§
Revenge yesterday –0.04 0.02 –1.96** –0.15 2.10 184.92****
Closeness before –0.03 0.01 –1.65* –0.13
Apology/amends –0.01 0.01 –0.91
NS
–0.07
Benevolence motivation as measure of forgiveness
Initial status in WB –0.25 0.06 84.80 1175.90
§
Linear change in WB 0.02 0.00 9.46
§
0.60 0.04 268.36
§
Benevolence yesterday 0.01 0.02 0.63
NS
0.05 1.46 197.40****
Closeness before –0.01 0.09 –0.36
NS
–0.03
Apology/amends 0.18 0.06 3.64**** 0.27
a. All models also included Level-1 parameters for previous day’s feelings of closeness and well-being (estimates not shown here).
b. % VAF = percentage of variance accounted for by parameters.
c. Linear change estimate based on a 1-day unit.
d. All models included between-persons covariates for feelings of closeness before the transgression and perceived apology/amends from trans-
gressor in only the forgiveness parameters.
*p < .10. **p < .05. ***p < .02. ****p < .01.
§
p < .001.
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reduced avoidance and revenge motivations on Day i
1 are mediated by increased feelings of closeness with
the transgressor on Day i (see Figures 1A and 1B).
7
Is Well-Being on a Given Day Linked to
Forgiveness or Feelings of Closeness on a
Successive Day?
Having found evidence that forgiveness is linked to
increases in well-being in a cross-lagged fashion and that
the association between the forgiveness and well-being in
these analyses could still be explained by feelings of close-
ness (at least with respect to avoidance and revenge), our
second aim for Study 2 was to further test the causal via-
bility of our mediational models. This required ruling out
evidence that the covariance structure among the TRIMs,
feelings of closeness, and well-being also supports close-
ness’ mediation of any prospective associations between
well-being and the TRIMs.
Multilevel models for the reverse causal models
showed that on any given Day i – 1, when people had
higher levels of psychological well-being than was typi-
cal for them, they also tended to have lower levels of
avoidance, t(df = 163) = –2.91, p = .005, effect size r =
–.22, and revenge, t(df = 163) = –4.03, p < .001, effect
size r = –.30, on the next Day i than we could expect
from their avoidance or revenge trajectories alone. On
the other hand, when people had above-typical well-
being on any given Day i – 1, they also had higher lev-
els of benevolence, t(df = 163) = 2.75, p = .007, effect
size r = .21, on the next Day i than we could expect
from their benevolence trajectories alone. These find-
ings emerged, moreover, after controlling for the covari-
ation among well-being, each TRIM, and feelings of
closeness on Day i – 1. Thus, this provides evidence that
psychological well-being may also lead to increases in
forgiveness.
Next we examined whether people’s well-being on
any given Day i – 1 was associated with their feelings
of closeness toward the transgressor on the following
Day i, after controlling for the covariation between
each TRIM, well-being, and feelings of closeness on
Day i – 1. Results demonstrated that when people had
higher well-being than was typical for them on Day i
1, they did not have significantly greater feelings of
closeness to their transgressors on the next Day i than
could be expected from their closeness trajectories
alone, ts(df = 163) = –0.20, 0.41, and 0.28, ps = .85,
.68, and .78 (for models using the avoidance, revenge
or benevolence on Day i – 1 parameters, respectively).
Therefore, feelings of closeness did not operate as a
mediator in well-being’s prospective associations with
increases in the TRIMs. Taken together, these results
indicate that well-being may lead to increases in for-
giveness, but that this does not occur via changes in
feelings of closeness.
DISCUSSION
The results from Study 2 largely replicated the find-
ings from Study 1. Fluctuations in all three motiva-
tions underlying forgiveness were uniquely related to
subsequent psychological well-being. Specifically, we
found that reductions in avoidance and revenge moti-
vations on any given day were related to greater well-
being on the next day for the average person; and that
increases in benevolence, on the other hand, were
more strongly related to greater well-being on the next
day the more a person perceived his or her transgres-
sor to have apologized or made amends. Results again
supported the idea that forgiveness (in terms of
reduced avoidance) may be more strongly related to
well-being for people who reported greater close-
ness/commitment to the relationship before the trans-
gression. Finally, results from Study 2 replicated the
finding that the positive association between forgive-
ness and well-being can be accounted for by feelings of
closeness toward the transgressor.
Study 2 also provided support for the proposition
that transgressors may play a productive role in helping
192 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
Figure 1 Models of the prospective associations of forgiveness (i.e.,
changes in Transgression-Related Interpersonal Motivations)
with well-being
NOTE: The figure shows that for the average person in the sample,
feelings of closeness completely mediated the associations that both
avoidance (1A) and revenge (1B) had with later increases in well-being.
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p .001.
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victims forgive (and, thereby, experience improved well-
being), by apologizing and making amends for their
transgressions. The fact that Study 2 replicated so many
of the findings from Study 1—using a prospective
design that allowed us to test one important condition
for causal conclusions (i.e., that changes in a putative x
variable precede the changes in a putative y variable)—
yields some additional (though by no means conclusive)
evidence to the notion that the links of forgiveness to
closeness and well-being may in fact be causal in nature.
However, it is important to note that Study 2 results
were not perfectly consistent with Study 1 results. For
example, in Study 1, avoidance and benevolence moti-
vation were both (cross-sectionally) associated with
well-being, but in Study 2, avoidance, but not benevo-
lence, was (prospectively) associated with well-being.
8
In
Study 1, revenge motivation was not (cross-sectionally)
associated with well-being, but in Study 2, it was
(prospectively) associated with well-being. Frankly, we
are at a loss to offer a coherent explanation for these
discrepancies and are tempted to conclude that they
simply represent the vagaries of sampling error, but
future work may reveal a more substantive explanation.
Finally, Study 2 provided evidence that well-being is
also associated with subsequent increases in forgiveness
and that, therefore, both causal orderings of the for-
giveness and well-being relationship may be simultane-
ously possible. Importantly, however, these final
analyses also demonstrated that well-being’s association
with subsequent forgiveness could not be accounted for
by feelings of closeness to the transgressor. Therefore,
Study 2 also indicated that it is only in the case of the
association of forgiveness with later well-being that feel-
ings of closeness appear to serve a mediating role.
GENERAL DISCUSSION
In the present article, we adduced data from two sep-
arate studies to test the hypothesis that forgiveness is
associated with psychological well-being. Furthermore,
we hypothesized that it obtains this association by help-
ing people restore a subjective sense of closeness and
commitment to a transgressing relationship partner.
The two studies were quite consistent in their support of
these hypotheses, in keeping with other recent findings
(Karremans & Van Lange, 2004; McCullough et al.,
1998; Tsang et al., 2006). These results are largely con-
sistent with the idea that psychological well-being can
serve as an indicator of the availability of positive social
relations, that positive social relations are a crucial human
need (Ryan & Deci, 2000; Trivers, 1971), and that help-
ing to restore valuable social relations is how forgiveness
obtains its positive association with well-being. The
present studies therefore contribute to the research on
forgiveness, relationship closeness, and psychological
well-being by demonstrating that the between-persons
relationships between these constructs, obtained in pre-
vious studies, also obtain at the within-persons level.
Moreover, by using time-lagged analyses in Study 2 to
demonstrate that forgiveness at any given point in time
is associated with later levels of psychological well-
being (even after controlling for previous levels of psy-
chological well-being), we found support for the notion
that the associations between forgiveness and well-
being are causal in nature.
Overall, the links between forgiveness and psycholog-
ical well-being were stronger in relationships character-
ized by two qualities: (a) greater closeness and
commitment to the relationship (at least from the vic-
tim’s perspective) and (b) a high degree of apology and
making amends from the transgressor following the
transgression. If a relationship is personally valuable to
the victim (e.g., if the transgressor was a close friend or
loved one), then the disruption of this relationship also
limits the victim’s access to the social-psychological
resources that the relationship provided (e.g., emotional
and material social support, love, a sense of social inclu-
sion, etc.), which leads to psychological distress. By forgiv-
ing and thereby promoting the restoration of the
relationship, those social-psychological resources become
available again to the victim. Likewise, failures to forgive
an apologetic partner are more negatively associated with
well-being than are failures to forgive an unapologetic one,
perhaps because apologies send signals that a relationship
is likely to possess value to the forgiver in the future,
whereas an unapologetic offender’s future relationship
intentions remain more uncertain. The notion that it is the
close, committed relationships that are likely to have future
value to the forgiver are the ones in which forgiveness is
most closely linked to better well-being is highly consistent
with evolutionary accounts of the psychological processes
underlying reciprocal altruism (Trivers, 1971).
Finally, we found evidence that well-being was also
associated with increases in forgiveness, a notion that,
as far as we know, has not been examined empirically.
While this finding aligns well with the common belief
that forgiveness is difficult to practice, it implies further
that one is more capable of practicing it when well-
being is high. Nonetheless, this last finding suggests that
future researchers should attend to the notion that for-
giveness and well-being may be bidirectionally related
when untangling the relationships between the two.
Directions for Future Research
Controlled experiments might be the logical next
step for exploring the associations between forgiveness
Bono et al. / FORGIVENESS AND WELL-BEING 193
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194 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
and well-being in greater detail. Second, because our
findings show that “reconnecting” with valued relation-
ship partners who transgress is important to well-being,
large longitudinal research programs on relationships or
well-being may benefit from incorporating a focus on
forgiveness. This, moreover, would enable measure-
ment of pretransgression closeness/commitment prior to
a transgression, thereby avoiding a limitation for which
our studies could be criticized.
Given the importance of apology as an apparent
moderator of the associations between forgiveness and
well-being (McCullough et al., 1997), further research
is also needed to investigate how other conciliatory
strategies on the part of the transgressor (e.g., compen-
sation, gifts, expressions of remorse, and nonverbal
expressions of distress, shame, etc.) might promote for-
giveness, and thereby, psychological well-being. Research
involving both victims and transgressors may be partic-
ularly useful for answering such questions. Third, it is
worth investigating whether the apparent associations
of forgiveness with relational well-being and psycholog-
ical well-being have implications for understanding the
relationship of forgiveness with physiological function-
ing and physical health (Lawler et al., 2003; Witvliet,
Ludwig, & Vander Laan, 2001).
In their recent interest in the concept of forgiveness,
psychologists have tended to study its various dimen-
sions in isolation: Some studies have examined the rela-
tionship causes and consequences of forgiveness, some
have focused on the social precursors of forgiveness, and
some have focused on forgiveness’ associations with
health and well-being. In the present study, we have tried
to integrate these concerns to provide a richer and more
comprehensive picture of the basic links between for-
giveness, relationship processes, and well-being.
NOTES
1. It is interesting that individual differences in transgression
painfulness did not significantly moderate the Transgression-Related
Interpersonal Motivations’ (TRIM’s) associations with well-being in
either study, except for that between revenge and well-being in Study
1 (effect size r = .18). Thus, it was not included in analyses.
2. One limitation in our studies was that we measured pretrans-
gression closeness and commitment after the transgression had
already occurred. Although there is no way to know whether this
method introduced bias or error, it is unlikely that such artifacts
would make results invalid. If it introduces systematic elevations or
deflations in participants’ reports, this would affect their absolute
scores on the measure but not their rankings relative to other partici-
pants. Thus, correlations with other variables would not be affected.
If the bias introduces unsystematic error, this would simply handicap
our ability to find any results—a limitation that would likely create
underestimates of the importance of pretransgression closeness as a
moderator of the forgiveness/well-being association.
3. To confirm that the closeness scale was distinct from the TRIM
subscales, we conducted a maximum likelihood factor analysis on the
18 TRIM items and the 3 closeness items using data from the first
assessments in both studies. We used oblimin rotation (delta = 0). Four
factors emerged after nine iterations. The first factor accounted for
42.8% of the variance (6 Avoidance items), with pattern loadings >.59.
The second factor accounted for 13.9% of the variance (all 5 Revenge
items), with pattern loadings >.75. The third factor accounted for
7.3% of the variance (all 3 Closeness items), with pattern loadings
>.79. The fourth factor accounted for 5% of the variance (4
Benevolence items), with pattern loadings >.47. One Avoidance item
and one Benevolence item did not load on their target or nontarget
factors with pattern loadings >.11, and another Benevolence item
loaded on the revenge factor (–.36). The Avoidance factor was corre-
lated with the Revenge, Benevolence, and Closeness factors at r(N =
280) = .42 and –.44, and –.59, respectively; the Revenge factor was
correlated with the Closeness and Benevolence factors at r(N = 280)
= –.13 and –.30, respectively; and the Closeness factor was correlated
with the Benevolence factor at r(N = 280) = .13.
4. Gender and age differences in the within-persons associations of
the TRIMs with well-being were consistently nonsignificant across
Studies 1 and 2.
5. The traditional Sobel test for mediation does not consider
potential covariance between the a and b paths for lower level medi-
ation in random effects multilevel models (Kenny, Korchmaros, &
Bolger, 2003). This can lead to inaccurate estimations of mediated
effects when lower level associations vary randomly at upper levels.
We used Korchmaros and Kenny’s (2003) approach for calculating
percentage amounts of mediation after adjusting for the ab covariance
in the avoidance model (the association of benevolence and well-being
did not vary randomly across upper level units). In Study 1, closeness
still mediated avoidance’s association with well-being 100%.
6. Between-persons closeness before the transgression and apology
were not included in the reverse causal model to simplify analyses.
Also, testing if these variables moderated well-being’s prediction of
closeness had less empirical rationale than did testing if they moder-
ated forgiveness’ prediction of closeness. Regardless, reverse models
exploring these covariates did not alter results.
7. In Study 2, closeness still mediated the prospective associations
of avoidance and revenge with well-being 100%, respectively, after
using Korchmaros and Kenny’s (2003) ab covariance adjustment.
8. It is worth noting that we found benevolence and well-being to be
cross-sectionally associated in both datasets (t = 7.99 in Study 2). The
quick prospective decay of this effect suggests that conciliatory stances
following transgressions may only correspond to immediate, short-lived
boosts in well-being, perhaps like bursts of self-empowerment.
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Received October 19, 2006
Revision accepted July 15, 2007
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This dissertation investigated how honor and dignity cultural logics were related to why people choose to forgive or not forgive and how that choice was associated with one’s well-being and relationship quality. Few studies examined why people forgive or do not, and even fewer used diverse samples or examined cultural values. In addition, forgiveness is often recommended because it has relational, physical, and psychological benefits; however, people may still choose not to forgive. The literature is not clear if the positive outcomes of forgiveness are because of the degree of forgiveness or the reasons for forgiveness; it is also unclear if all reasons for not forgiving are related to worse outcomes or if the person’s motives for withholding forgiveness are related to these outcomes. This dissertation addressed that gap by examining whether types of forgiveness (i.e., decisional and emotional) mediated the relation between forgiveness motives and well-being or relationship quality and how unforgiveness motives related to these same outcomes. I conducted two studies where Mexicans (an honor culture) and Northern U.S. European Americans (a dignity culture) wrote about conflicts they had forgiven or not forgiven. In Study 1, participants wrote about how they came to this decision (i.e., their reasons for forgiving or not forgiving), and in Study 2, participants indicated to what extent they used different motives for forgiving or not forgiving. In both studies, participants also indicated the type of offense that occurred (whether it was a reputation threat and the type of moral foundation violated). Results showed that Mexicans and Northern U.S. European Americans tended to forgive the most for egocentric, relationship, and altruistic reasons and forgave for religious, normative, and reparative work reasons to a lesser extent. Mexicans and Northern U.S. European Americans also tended to not forgive for similar reasons; unreadiness, self-protection, reputation, lack of reparative work, and moral concern. The findings related to cultural differences in the use of forgiveness and unforgiveness motives were mixed; some supported my hypotheses, and some did not. Additionally, the findings demonstrated that it does matter why someone chose to forgive or not to forgive; not all forgiveness reasons are associated with better outcomes, and not all unforgiveness reasons are associated with worse outcomes. Forgiving for egocentric, religious, or normative reasons was not consistently associated with well-being or relationship quality, but forgiving for relationship, altruistic, and reparative work reasons were highly related to relationship quality but inconsistently with well-being in both cultural groups. Not forgiving because of unreadiness reasons was associated with worse well-being but better relationship commitment with their offender. In contrast, not forgiving because of moral concerns was positively related to satisfaction with life and relationship satisfaction but negatively with relationship commitment. Lastly, in both studies, conflicts were not about one’s reputation but were primarily about harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, or ingroup/loyalty moral foundations, and this did not vary by country.
... It can be thought that forgiveness improves interpersonal relationships and increases an individual's level of subjective well-being (Bono et al., 2008;Johnson et al., 2013). The attack of revenge and retaliation is reduced by forgiveness when cognitive control resources are used, which can help resolve conflicts (Fincham et al., 2007;Wilkowski et al., 2010). ...
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... Conversely, behavior-focused confrontations will be seen as milder, leading to a greater likelihood of more benevolent relationship motivations followed by prosocial behaviors. Further bolstering these predictions, research on the benefits of forgiveness on personal well-being have also found evidence for reverse causality-people who feel good about themselves tend to have increased motivation for benevolence toward transgressors and decreased motivation for revenge (Bono et al., 2008;Orth et al, 2008). As previous work links person-focused feedback attributions to a sense of hopelessness (e.g., Hui et al., 2012;Joiner, 2001) and behavior-focused feedback to persistence (Foll et al., 2006;Ilgen & Davis, 2000), it is likely that confronted individuals are in a better mental state to engage in benevolence and resist a desire for revenge in the latter type of confrontation situation, as opposed to the former. ...
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