The Biology of Forgiveness

Recent studies are coming out with interesting findings on forgiveness. In one area of research, science is showing how forgiveness can help humans become more healthy and happy, and how holding on to anger leads to emotional and physical deterioration. Another area of research is exploring the possibility that humans are biologically wired for forgiveness, that it is just as normal as our revenge instinct, leaving up to us the choice of which to nurture.

One pioneer in the study of forgiveness is Dr. Frederic Luskin, the co-founder and director of the Stanford Forgiveness Projects, where he developed his research-tested “Nine Steps to Forgiveness” training methodology. His research, as well as others’ research, has consistently shown that forgiveness increases physical vitality, optimism, hope, compassion, and self-confidence while reducing anger, blood pressure, hurt, depression, and stress.  In his work as co-director of the Stanford-Northern Ireland HOPE Project, he has successfully worked with men and women from both sides of the violence in Northern Ireland who have had family members killed. Watch him speak about how forgiveness is trainable HERE.

Coming from another perspective is Michael McCullough, a professor of psychology who describes how science is  revealing that human beings are more instinctively equipped for forgiveness than we’ve perhaps given ourselves credit for. Knowing this, he says, suggests ways to calm the revenge instinct in ourselves and others and embolden the forgiveness intuition. He recently wrote a book entitled: Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct and you can listen to his interview with Speaking of Faith‘s Krista Tippett here:  Getting Revenge and Forgiveness


Hopefully, showing how forgiveness is in one’s best interest–and may be our natural instinct as human beings–may help in inducing people to overcome the revenge instinct and find ways to heal grievances.

© Marc Gopin