Interpersonal Forgiving in Close Relationships

Michael E. McCullough, Kenneth C. Rachal, Everett L. Worthington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

864 Scopus citations


Forgiving is a motivational transformation that inclines people to inhibit relationship-destructive responses and to behave constructively toward someone who has behaved destructively toward them. The authors describe a model of forgiveness based on the hypothesis that people forgive others to the extent that they experience empathy for them. Two studies investigated the empathy model of forgiveness. In Study 1, the authors developed measures of empathy and forgiveness. The authors found evidence consistent with the hypotheses that (a) the relationship between receiving an apology from and forgiving one's offender is a function of increased empathy for the offender and (b) that forgiving is uniquely related to conciliatory behavior and avoidance behavior toward the offending partner. In Study 2, the authors conducted an intervention in which empathy was manipulated to examine the empathy-forgiving relationship more closely. Results generally supported the conceptualization of forgiving as a motivational phenomenon and the empathy-forgiving link.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-336
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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