Cutting-Edge Leadership

The best in current leadership research and theory, from cultivating charisma to transforming your organization

Can You Actually Forgive and Forget?

Can you really Forgive and Forget? Does forgiveness heal?

We’ve all heard the saying, “forgive and forget,” but is there any truth to it? When someone has been wronged in a social relationship, will forgiveness actually lead to quicker forgetting of the hurt? Or, do feelings of hurt and revenge make you feel better in some cathartic sort of way? A recent study in Psychological Science suggests that forgiveness does indeed facilitate forgetting.

In an experiment, college student participants imagined they were the victim in a series of wrongdoings, including being falsely accused of plagiarizing and being expelled from school, or an instance of infidelity by a partner. Participants were then asked whether or not they would forgive the transgressor. In every case, participants sometimes forgave and sometimes did not. One to two weeks later participants were asked to remember certain elements of the scenarios.

The results suggest that forgiveness does indeed lead to forgetting the upsetting memories of the transgression, particularly over time (not initially). One possible explanation is that forgiveness results in less rumination over the negative aspects of the transgression and this facilitates forgetting. Of course, this is only an initial experiment, but, as the authors note, the study “represents the first empirical demonstration of a link between forgiveness and intentional forgetting.”


Noreen, S., Bierman, R.N., & MacLeod, M.D. (2014). Forgiving you is hard, but forgetting seems easy: Can forgiveness facilitate forgetting? Psychological Science OnlineFirst: doi:10.1177/0956797614531602 

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Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.


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