Apologies, offers of compensation and owning up to one's responsibility increase forgiveness and reduce anger by making the aggressor seem more valuable as a relationship partner and by causing the victim to feel less at risk of getting hurt again by the transgressor, reveals a new study. According to the researchers at the University of Miami, all of the things that people are motivated to do when they have harmed someone they care about really do appear to be effective at helping victims forgive and get over their anger.
Michael McCullough, professor of psychology in the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences said that people often think that evolution designed people to be mean, violent, and selfish, but humans need relationship partners, so natural selection probably also gave us tools to help us restore important relationships after they have been damaged by conflict.
The findings show that the extent to which a transgressor offered conciliatory gestures to their victims was directly proportional to the extent to which those victims forgave over time. Conciliatory gestures also appeared to change the victim's perceptions about the relationship and the aggressor.
One basic scientific implication of the results is that humans have a psychology for conflict resolution that is very much analogous to the psychology that other non-human group-living animals have for restoring valuable relationships.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.